Tuesday, March 1, 2011

getting hope.

just the other day, i had a meeting with a group of american women. if you've read this blog for long enough, you'll know i've tried this experiment before. and usually it fails because the lifestyle of most expats is over our heads - and not something i aspire to. ever.

but, i go through phases where i need to surround myself with people similar to me - raised with similar values and wanting similar things from life. i (am pretty sure) that i have found some americans who fit the bill.

there's always a catch. always. and the catch here is that they're missionaries.


i know, i was a missionary. but i really did hate 90% of the missionary stuff (and cherish deeply the 10% remaining) and in the six years that have passed since then, i've seen things that make me want to throw up.

you see. i love jesus. deeply, immensely. i want to be like jesus and i want my children to love him and for all of my friends to know him. and i've read the bible.

a lot.

and i don't find the place in there at all where it says that we should run around telling people how to live and how not to. in fact, it tells us just the opposite. can't tell someone about the splinter in their eye if i've got a log in mine... and well, i might as well have a whole tree in mine!

my life should radiate god's love so much that it rubs off on other people. they should see jesus in me and want to be like him, too, right? nothing wrong with that. but how does that affect my view of missions?

there are some amazing missionaries in this country (and around the world) who are doing what they need to do. and there are some who make me want to never step foot in a church again. when i was in the church, i was surrounded by people who had created a culture of "give me." whenever an american came to the church, children lined up waiting for presents. it took me a year to break that. why did it happen?

because that's what they were taught by the missionaries. god loves you, so we're going to give you stuff! i'm not against presents, but really? you can't just spend time with these kids, love them and show them jesus' love and have that be enough? do they really need all that candy, hairclips, baby erasers and junk that you have to give them? probably not.

but it's not the stuff that is the problem. it's the idea that material good represent jesus' love for us. the children had gotten it into their heads that if people loved them, they'd give them stuff. and remember in the bible where it says that? oh, wait, it doesn't. in fact, it tells us to GIVE UP everything we have to follow jesus.

this might sound like a rant. but it's a solid observation and something i've always felt was not quite right. we live in a third world country. the situation here is dismal for most very poor people. the cost of living is rising. sex trafficking in the DR is high - and the amount of women who will "sell" themselves to the first seedy american looking for a "wife" is shocking. young girls are sold to the highest bidder - who can provide the family with the highest quality of life. what man can pull them from poverty and continue the cycle of unnecessary dependence? it's what we're teaching our children here.

so, here i am, with a little (well...) tightening in my chest when i think of the damage caused by some. and here i am, meeting with a group of missionaries. i was reluctant at first. but then i met them.

and i see something different. starting with how they actually live in the poor areas they serve, don't live in mansions and send their kids to the same schools they sponsor as a ministry. instead of giving material, i think they are sharing love.

will this lead to life long friendships and dismissal of my poor impressions? maybe. but if not, it'll probably chip off some of that sadness. and give me hope that jesus' word can be spread without material goods - without teaching kids that following jesus means presents every time they see a foreigner. and teaching them that they have value and are worth far, far more than a candy bar or a nice house on the hill.

i have hope.


Erin said...

I've never before considered how the little gifts missionaries bring can confuse their purpose in the eyes of children. Great points! I hope you find what you need in this new group. I can only imagine how badly I would want to surround myself with people who shared my values as well.

melanie. said...

Erin - it's not the little gifts, it's the customs that come with it. The idea that short term missionaries "should" or "have to" have gifts, as if their presence (and a week of fun filled activities) isn't enough. That we, as north americans, sometimes feel guilty that we have these things and want to share them without really thinking through the cultural implications of it. we tend to want to make everyone like ourselves because it makes us more comfortable.
those little gifts get lost more often than not... but the implication of them doesn't - when the american comes, they will give me things. if i go to church, i get things. if i am cute and poor they will shower me with gifts. there are so many better things that can be invested in with long lasting positive benefits (I think, because of course this is all my personal opinion and experience) love you :)

Mariposa said...

I am wondering have you related your concerns to the mitionary group you were a part of in the past? (maybe with time you can express your concerns to your new group)
i think in some truth the mitionaries might give the gifts because these are children that lack things we have and many times we dont appreciate.
Tambien recuerda que aunque la biblia dice que hay que dajar lo que uno tiene y seguir a Jehova, tambien ahi que dar porque es una forma de demostrar amor.
My opinion is that the problem is not what the mitionaries imply by giving the gifts, but you must wonder, what is the parent teaching the child? Mi hijo hoy va el gringo a la iglesia, mira a vel si te da alguito".. and i have seen mothers imply that tought to the child..
But try to always look at the positive, Tambien te quiero a inbitar a que no dejes que estas cosas que ves en el ecenario de la iglesia disminuya tu necesidad de ir a la iglesia a buscar a Dios, pues me doy cuenta que amas a Dios- No dejemos de congregarnos, como acostumbran hacerlo algunos, sino animémonos unos a otros, y con mayor razón ahora que vemos que aquel día se acerca.Hebreos 10:25

" Y sabemos que á los que á Dios aman, todas las cosas les ayudan á bien, es á saber, á los que conforme al propósito son llamados" Romanos 8:28
Dios te bendiga

melanie. said...

mariposa - of course we've discussed it. and yes, the parents are sending their kids, but who created the environment in the first place? and it's not just my "missionary" group, it's most short term groups that travel. i think that people don't think about it, and it's easy to lay the blame on the families - but someone had to start the tradition. It's gotten to the point that people only go to church for the things people bring, and instead of combating that idea, the groups just give more "to get their attention."

i don't know if you're familiar with dominican culture, but this idea is not just present in the church environment, it's anthropologically present in the mainstream culture as well. How many dominicans don't work because they get a check from the states? because someone else is working to maintain their lifestyles. and no, they don't appreciate or understand the hard work that goes into those 1,000 US dollars a month because nobody has bothered to explain that to the people receiving the money!

as far as giving because the bible says so, there are plenty of healthy, non-habit forming, positive ways to give to the poor without enabling that kind of idea. the bible tells us to give 10% of what we earn, it also tells us to give everything we have. but it doesn't say create bad habits. through our love we should be making people btter, not worse.

thank you for your commentary. i respect what you say!