Monday, October 29, 2007

Why I hate missions

How is that for a provocative title. Why I hate missions - and quite often, I find I do. Do I hate teaching people about Jesus? No. In fact, I think that is the most wondrous thing the Church can do. Do I hate people overseas? No. In fact, I love traveling the world and rather enjoy studying other cultures (as evidenced by undergraduate majors in Classics and Japanese History).

No, when I say that I hate missions - I mean the whole attitude that falsely glamorizes mission - as though you aren't going God's Work unless you are out in the boonies somewhere playing Great White Hero to some poor savage. There are two aspects there that comes up my characterization of mission that get me riled up (if you can't tell). Let's look at these.

1 - Those poor people. I hate the arrogance I see and hear from mission administrators an supporters (and some, but not all, missionaries). They are not ignorant peoples. They are not backwards folk. They are people, our brothers and sisters, hopefully soon to be brothers and sisters in Christ - and worthy of our dignity and respect, not disdain. I remember when a missionary to Africa was talking to the congregation where my dad was vicaring, and a member asked the missionary how he could stand to live among those "savages". This missionary looked at the woman and said something along the lines of "Murder is virtually unknown among them, a once in a generation occurance among them - and this is a country that kills over a million unborn a year. Who is the savage?"

To often I see so much European arrogance sweeping in with the idea of mission - we are going to come and not only bring them Christ, but bring them society and civilization and make their life so much better - and we'll bring them along nice and slowly until they are ready for things. The Patronizing approach that all too often comes with mission baggage makes me sick.

2 - There is work here, good work to do. Through the four years of seminary, whenever I mentioned that my undergraduate major was in Japanese History, I would be asked/told, "Oh, you must be wanting to be a missionary." Um - no. I actually don't want to be a missionary - if I end up one, I end up one - but that isn't what I want. I wanted to be a pastor - plain and simple - and if I did go overseas, why would I want to go to Japan where there is an established Lutheran Church -- am I going to give them such great insight and wisdom on how to preach Christ to the Japanese?

No, there is work to do here in the US - in a small little town in a small little Congregation - and it is just as important as being a pastor in Japan. The looks of - disappointment - when I said I was going to stay in the US, of people thinking "what a waste" (which I was actually told once - it's such a waste that I don't put my knowledge of Japan to work) angered. Some US congregation doesn't deserve a pastor - a pastor here is a waste? Spitting nails.


I think the reason why I can get so frustrated with the focus on being "missional" - whoever created that word - is that it is artificial. It's an attempt to be self-serving - look at what we are doing for Jesus - look at what I am giving up to serve the Lord, see I have no running water. It's disrespectful to the people where we go, and it shows a wrong reason for going.

I have friends who go and teach overseas - and I respect them so. I have classmates who are now overseas and simply seeking to teach (most of them returning to their homes). Wonderful. I sincerely mean that. Indeed - I could even see myself somewhere other than the US some day (Spain, Italy, Ireland - the places where I have traveled and seen that the Gospel is so hidden) - but not for glory, not because I'd be a missionary (oooOOOooo) - but because the Word should be preached.

Somehow our focus on missions has shifted off of the Word that is preached and onto the fact that we, see, look at us, we are preaching. See all that we do - see what we bring. And it makes me sick. Soli Deo Gloria!

1 comment:

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

A late night addendum - remember, we don't like single guys to go out as Missionaries - they might go native and marry a local gal, and we can't have that!

But we have a mission focus -- sadly all too often that mission seems to be the acquiring of our own praise.