The State of Western Missions, talking donkeys and a video

I am now an avid fan of the Phil Vischer podcast (creator of Veggie Tales and What’s in the Bible). I’m a fan for many reasons, especially because he mentioned Taylor University by name in his most recent podcast. He also talked about his uncle who left (abandoned??!) his wife and kids for three years to minister to cannibals in the middle of nowhere. And then this guy showed up again after three years, and his child didn’t even know who he was. Um, how is that ever okay?

So then that got me kind of depressed, thinking about all the missionary screw-ups there have been in the history of western missionaries. Like, the whole preach Jesus and not western culture we kind of mess up a lot, I think. And we try not to be too obnoxioulsy rich and white, but too often we are without even realizing it. (Read more on Between Worlds and Djabouti Jones. Yes, read them.)

And then there’s that whole actually listening to people, and honoring people thing that is a little hard.

And there’s so many things in the community development world, like TOMS shoes, that seemed like such a good idea at the time but actually turn out to be really un-helpful for so many people.

So then part of me thinks, why did we ever think this was a good idea in the first place?? People have so many good intentions, but good intentions aren’t enough, and we can cause more harm than good, so why do we rush around headlong into these things anyway?

BUT… then I think of those old men telling William Carey (one of the first Western missionaries to India) to “sit back down” because God could convert the heathen in India without his help… and how that’s also not okay.

And I think of the German church who didn’t do ANYTHING about Hilter because they were so paranoid of doing the wrong thing. So they debated and debated instead of taking a stand. Bonhoffer said “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” He chose to be a part of a plot to kill Hiter, and he believed in the radical grace of God that would cover his sin if he was wrong. It was better to act and “sin boldly” than to pussy-foot around and then miss out on doing something that could make a difference.

And then I think of the fact that God used a donkey speak to Balaam. A donkey*.

And he used Peter, who was constantly putting his foot in his mouth, and didn’t always get things right.

And he’s used my parents, who (I can attest!) don’t always do everything right but (I can also attest!) have done lots of things right.

It’s so crazy that God would chose to use people to accomplish his mission of reconciliation and redemption here on earth, when he knows that we’ll screw up and not get it right all the time. But his grace that covers the brokenness we are trying to fix in the world is the same grace that covers our brokenness. The only thing we really know for sure is that whatever “good thing” we’re doing in the world, we’re doing it wrong. Or perhaps imperfectly is a better word. But God can and does still use us. He chooses to.

So I don’t think we should just run out there and go try to save the world…but I also don’t think we can hesitate and nibble our fingers and debate best pratice for years. I think maybe we just need to be a little more humble. And not always assume that our ideas are invincible..they most probably are wrong. This position is called “intellectual honesty” in the academic world. It’s saying “After examining all the data, it  seems to be saying this….but I understand that I don’t see perfectly and I could be wrong.”  And I guess when we’re in that position, we’re quicker to listen to other people and change our pratices when they’re wrong. Which is basically humility.

And so, that is why I am going to share this video with you. I could stick my nose in the air and make comments about Western neo-colonialism and how even in trying to communicate the dignity and humanity of cultures we still have to use Western culture as a medium…but I won’t.

Because this video made me SMILE. And the concept (and the organization’s philosophy of community engagement) are pretty cool. So I’m just going to take it in the spirit it was intended and sing along. 

I hope you do, too!

(Click through and watch this, you people who get this in email)

(*also, talking donkeys were mentioned in the same light on the Phil Vischer podcast. Go listen). 

4 thoughts on “The State of Western Missions, talking donkeys and a video

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