Heard Tony Campolo speak night in Nashville. He’s a challenging person when it comes to issues of politics and justice and living as “A Red Letter Christian.” He’s dynamic. He’s funny. And he is truly trying to live out the faith as best as he can. This was a benefit for Haiti (earthquake) and Nashville (flood).
Great music. Great preaching. His talk focussed on mission work and what we’ve done wrong, in addition to what it means to live the words of Jesus and what it means for the United Methodist Church to address a lot of the issues that face today’s world and to address young persons who struggle with what it means to be Christian…or at least how Christians have been perceived in today’s world.
I want to take a moment to talk about mission work. Now, I say this all as a pastor of a church that has benefited…greatly…from mission teams. But, Tony talked about how much of the mission work Christians have been doing around the world have had a negative effect on the persons for whom and to whom and with whom we’ve been in mission. We’ve not been empowering anyone. Instead of HAND-UPS we’ve given HAND-OUTS that, particularly outside of crises situations, has ended up hurting.
Here’s a normal mission trip scenario. We send a team to Central America or to Haiti or to wherever it is that we’re going to send them and we build a school for them. That’s great. But, part of the reason those folks need a school is because they’re too poor to afford one. And the reason they are too poor to afford one is because they don’t have paying jobs the get the money to afford said school. And, the very process of persons (mostly rich white people) going down there or over there or up there to build a school for them means that we’ve taken away jobs that could have gone to indigenous persons. What if, instead, we provided money (our greatest resource in the US that is lacking in Third World Countries) to pay persons to do the work–essentially creating jobs which created the schools. Our normal method of operation has been to go on trips to do what persons should have probably been doing for themselves if only there was the funding to make it possible.
It is for this reason that Tony Campolo and Eastern University (an American Baptist School) has birthed a program that goes to developing countries to help persons start up cottage industries to create jobs rather than just going and doing FOR the indigenous people.
Another problem Campolo mentioned is what has happened in Haiti after the earthquake. There is a crisis there that needs to be addressed and one of the ways it needs to be addressed is the infusion of food into the country. People are hungry. They need food. But, we need to provide that food in such a way that we don’t end up putting farmers out of business because they can’t sell any food because persons are all getting free food. A similar problem is appearing with the clothing industry. There used to be, according to Tony, a clothing industry in Haiti. But, what’s happened since the earthquake is there is such a glut of second hand clothing that no one can sell clothing to the persons in the country. They have been given free clothes. Anyone involved with the clothing industry (manufacturing, distribution, or sale) is struggling. And so more jobs are lost and the people remain in poverty.
Mission work can go wrong. It can be done in such a way that fails to lift up the very people it was intended to help.
So, what about Girdwood Chapel? What about all the mission teams that have come up over the years? Could this have been done differently? Were teams doing FOR US that which we should have done FOR OURSELVES? Maybe. But, what I think is true is that we have treasured the relationships that have built up over time with all of those work teams. They have done great work for us and with us and I do not want to lessen the “sweat equity” put in by members of our own congregation. What they have done is move us forward farther and faster than we could have done by ourselves…which is scary considering how long this has taken.
Maybe this is a cop-out. I don’t know.
But it is well worth questioning whether we could have gotten more financial commitment and time commitment and labor commitment from our own folks if others had not been so generous. I’m just not picture where we might be today if not for the ways all of the mission work we’ve received has gone right…not wrong.
Thanks, Tony Campolo, for making me think.