Monday, November 02, 2009

The Modern Mission?

I am a avid follower of Holli's blog over at The Pale Observer. She's a westerner living in Ghana, and an excellent writer. She posted a very thought-provoking writing today, called "The Modern Mission."

Gotta say...kind of a hard piece to read without feeling offended. But at the same time I "see" what she's saying. I've only spent about 4 months of my entire life in Ghana, but I am thoroughly annoyed when I see these rich couples wearing their "safari clothes" going over to Africa to observe "the natives" and have a once in a lifetime experience. It annoys me immensely when people actually spend time in Ghana and can then only take about how "poverty-stricken" it is, and how there were starving children in the streets--when they were only in Accra! Ha! ACCRA IS NOT GHANA! It's just a small, small taste of Ghana. Accra is PARADISE compared to most of the rest of Ghana, and Africa for that matter. People come to Accra to vacation.

But, when I see the church groups in the airports, excited about experiencing Africa for the first time, I don't wish them ill will. I think for lots of these mission-minded folks, the true motive might be more about the excitement that comes from telling people "I've been to Africa! I've slept in a mud hut and took a bucket shower for 10 days!" If some of these people were honest with themselves, they might find their motives off a bit. And really? It's not such a terrible thing to want to test exactly how soft you are by sleeping in a mud hut and using a bucket bath for a few days. That's more hardship than most Americans ever face. Those that want to change and learn about how the rest of the world does it have to start somewhere. Right?

SOME of those people in matching T-shirts and name badges are going with pure motives. And some of those people are going to do good. They might not make lasting change for an entire country. They might not make lasting change for an entire village. But maybe there's one old pudgy guy from America that makes a meaningful relationship with one young family in Ghana. Maybe Pudge can help in a way that isn't condescending and isn't causing Africans to rely only westerners. Maybe Pudge's 'ol life was changed, as well as the family he came to care about in Africa. Just maybe.

As for this pudgy American, with piggish white skin, who eats mostly processed foods, and was forever changed by visiting Africa? Well, I hope I've been able to help just a little bit. One of the comments on Holli's blog basically said (I'm paraphrasing) the longer someone is in Ghana, the more confident they are that they know nothing. Even though I spend only a small amount of time each year in Ghana, I certainly feel that way. I was much more sure about all things Ghanaian 3 years ago after a one week stay than I am now. Almost every day I talk to my friends/staff in Ghana. Sometimes I get weary of asking for explanations because I know the cultural "whatever" we're talking about will never translate into anything I can understand as an American living in luxury. At least I know now that I don't understand it. Progress?

I hope you'll go and read Holli's blog post. And I'd love to hear your thoughts (here, or there if you choose). I just think it's a piece of writing worthy of discussion.

10 comments:

FullPlateMom 11:04 PM  

All I could think was...poor Holli, she's getting a little burnt out. Those people are there to help, even if they never come back, they just contributed to the economy in Ghana by "touring". It isn't anyone's job to judge other people's motives. Who says that how someone chooses to volunteer isn't the "correct" way? Maybe just one of those people will see what you and I did and choose to adopt, or choose to help at one of the orphanages. Heck, even if they choose to pay just one child's tuition, they've just made a difference.

Holli has said over and over that she isn't religious. In fact, she has a problem with organized religion. I got the impression that she thought the group was even more useless because they seemed to be of a religious affiliation. Sad. Because Ghana is a very spiritual place. And, as a Christian, I say come one, come all, no matter what religion you are (or even if you aren't one at all). There will never be too many volunteers building a stronger Ghana. It's sad when someone decides that people who come to help aren't pure enough in their motives.
--Becky

lishoprah 11:16 PM  

Talk about jaded :(. Even if they are just contributing to the Ghanaian economy, isn't that a good thing?

My daughter is Liberian and was starving on a diet of only corn meal in 2003 when my husband was able to pick her up in Ghana. He was there less than 48 hours and hardly got to see anything of Ghana, but it is special to us because that is where he got to hold his baby girl for the first time.

I don't know, there are just so many reasons to be in Africa and maybe she's been there too long when she starts to judge those with good intentions....

Kait 11:33 PM  

I've never been to Africa but I spent six months in Haiti and four in Brazil. And yes, I did the whole living in tents/orphanages, bathing from a bucket/the river thing. I was an ignorant teenager and I got to experience poverty and hope in ways I never could have imagined before going to Haiti and Brazil.

I thought what Holli said was beautifully written for something that so completely missed the mark. It doesn't matter why people go. It really doesn't. What matters is that they go. What matters is that they see what's happening and they taste it, even if only for a moment, and even if it's not obvious, they are forever changed.

We're not all called to move to a third world county. Some of us need to live our spoiled American lives so we can send ridiculously large checks to organizations that we've visited (and thus can tell where the money is going) or so we can adopt a child or even just so we can raise our children to be aware that there is suffering the world and it is our obligation as pudgy Americans to ease that however we can.

She sounds bitter and angry in her post and I don't understand why. Because there aren't more of us like her? Or because there are those of us who go and really are marked forever, those of us who will instantly be back in that place by a chance encounter with a smell or a sound, those of us who go about our American lives with the heavy knowledge of what we saw and experienced, even though we feel no draw to move there.

Jena 8:28 AM  

hmmm...
Having not read Holli's post...I think about this topic a LOT as it pertains to adoption/short term missions...
I think at some point we all need to be very honest about our motives... very much an inward look...

Darrell and Jess 11:00 AM  

My thoughts have been circling around these very issues lately because in our church we have been doing a series on poverty and what we do to help.
I don't know what I think exaclty but I do know at the end of the day there are people with good motives, there are people with bad motives and there are people who go to Africa and ARE changed regardless of their motives.
I haven't even been to Africa yet, and I have been changed just by what I see our girls caregiver doing for the children in his care. What do I do that assists people to that degree? Can I even go one day without self-indulgence? This is a reality in north america and I know that I need africa, more then africa needs me. Yet lately I have been challenged to do more without self-indulgence.

Welcome 9:37 AM  

In some ways I can totally related to the point she is trying to make and in other ways it makes me angry not only as a lover of Ghana but as an American.

I recently find myself angered by the TV show where the woman pays $150 for her dog to have a massage so he could relax. And frustrated by advertisements of luxury cruises and luxury homes. I want to demand that each of these people tell me what they have done to make the world a better place for someone besides themselves. But it's a stereotype I have created against them. Who am I to judge? I am sitting in a Caribou with my $4.50 Hot Apple Blast... just because. I know for a fact that same money could save a child's life with the right meal at the right time... while I enjoy my dumb luxury.

I was intrigued by Holli's willingness to point out the short-comings of the travelers. Who is she to judge why they have come or who might have been touched or changed? Maybe the tourist will come back to America and return to over indulgence, but maybe some prejudice or stereotype will have been removed. How do you place a value on that?

I am not going to judge Holli... she is expressing what she was noticing about a given moment in time. But I will say that when you go and it's with God's direction and with God's blessing... it's not a "modern mission"... it's His mission.


If God is for us, who can be against us?

So it's not really Holli's observations or opinion that matter, but our response to them in action and meditation.

And I am pretty confident I have been changed by Africa, and by Ghana. I believe that God has asked me to guide 5 children through life to become his servants, 3 from Africa. I guess if you believe that the only evidence of change is giving up material things, then it might be hard to see, since that is all relative. The only way to meet this standard is to give up everything and go. And as someone pointed out, it would be pretty difficult to offer assistnace and resources without someone having the jobs and education that were brought forth by the more "developed" countries (whatever that means).

I am changed, I am.

Accused, while I was in Ghana, by a young man, that the Obruni only comes to take the children and not to help the people. I took his message to heart. I have done what I can and continue to do what I can for the new family I have in Ghana. If I can provide an education for one, or even a meal for one, have I not been the hands and feet of God? Has this person not been blessed directly by God. I can't make a change in Ghana and Ghana can't make a change in me, but God can and did. And as cliche as it might sound, I am changed. I am! God used Africa to change me to be his willing servant.

Welcome 9:39 AM  

Post by "Welcome" is from Kamille (not sure why Blogger changed my name to "Welcome")

Sister Beta 12:40 PM  

I read that blog yesterday! How funny you would post about it today. I really appreciated her point of view. I've seen a lot of that. I have also met some really amazing people who truly love Ghana and Ghanaians and don't help to say they went to Africa or to show of pics of cute little black children. As a Westerner now attached to Ghana forever, I have a slightly different view than other "whites" who are eager to help "THE Africans". And yes, I do get very offended when people see Ghana as a project-they're talking about my family and friends! The place I LOVE! I expected different things and saw things differently on my very first trip to Ghana (3 1/2 years ago) than I do now. Ghanaians don't need the help the typical Westerner thinks they do and they most certainly do NOT need Americans telling them all the things they could be and do if only they were American. At the same time, that doesn't meen everyone who goes there has bad motives. And yes, tourism can be a good thing.

Awo 9:13 PM  

I think Holli is burnt out! I understand where she's coming from in her post but "the harvest is ripe and the laborers are few". I'm sure people serve for all kinds of reasons, but the bottom line is that the work needs to be done. I'm not offended by people's service, but I do sometimes get offended and lose patience when I detect what I call the "Darkest Africa" attitude where all they see is poverty, disease and need. There are all of those things, or course. But they are not the entire story and their is diversity in Ghanaians' experiences, just as there is in any other country. My husband's family is very different from mine and we're both Ghanaian. So I get annoyed when people spend a short time in Ghana, generalize their experience and think that they're now Ghana experts.

Awo 9:13 PM  

I think Holli is burnt out! I understand where she's coming from in her post but "the harvest is ripe and the laborers are few". I'm sure people serve for all kinds of reasons, but the bottom line is that the work needs to be done. I'm not offended by people's service, but I do sometimes get offended and lose patience when I detect what I call the "Darkest Africa" attitude where all they see is poverty, disease and need. There are all of those things, or course. But they are not the entire story and their is diversity in Ghanaians' experiences, just as there is in any other country. My husband's family is very different from mine and we're both Ghanaian. So I get annoyed when people spend a short time in Ghana, generalize their experience and think that they're now Ghana experts.