Missionaries of the One True Western Religion™ – Consumerism

kinnon —  February 26, 2009 — 10 Comments

My friend, Mark Petersen, who hasn't been blogging as often of late, made me aware of his most recent post.

He warned me that I might blow a gasket.

I will.

Right after I finish banging the keyboard with this post whilst muttering things that will get my mouth washed out with soap if Imbi hears me.

Go read Mark's post on Canadians whose big hearts have them sharing the One True Western Religion™, to the rest of the World. God help us all.

UPDATE: My response to Mark's post on his blog was overheated and in terms of me citing the Napoleon Dynamite epithet there, inappropriate. I've apologized there, let me do the same here and suggest that it would have been helpful for my words to have been more measured. There was too much heat and not enough light in the original blog post above. My reasons for that can be found in the comment section of this post.

Let me quote my friend, Glenn Hatcher from those comments. Glenn is Training Co-ordinator for Globe International, a missions agency with projects around the world.

Just a quick word in this hailstorm…

A shopping trip will not restore a sense of worth and dignity. Just won't. Clothes wear out and expectations for the next dignity-restoration session set in, because these kids are human.

We have to revamp our whole short-term missions mentality where it's not about us feeling good about "giving dignity," but is about us sacrificing our lives for others while accepting their worth and value. Probably takes longer than 2 weeks. Probably costs more than a short-term mission trip.

Dignity is restored through identification and identification is a costly way of living. We who have much cannot restore dignity to those who have little by giving tokens from our wealth.

Actually it's kinda demeaning when you think it through. And creates a dependency that is dehumanizing.

And it's complicated as heck because we've inherited a screwy philosophy of missions that is more about "me" than about "them" or the Kingdom.

kinnon

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

10 responses to Missionaries of the One True Western Religion™ – Consumerism

  1. Oh dear. I think their hearts are in the right place but perhaps their eyes aren’t seeing very far. Sad 🙁

    Reply
  2. Bill,

    I posted a reply on Mark’s blog… Don’t be so quick to judge – please!

    I will copy my reply here… this is what I posted there:

    OK… lots of judgmental opinions from people sitting at home who aren’t “over there” talking to these orphans…

    I lived in Ukraine for three years working with some of these orphans. I personally took some orphans out shopping for clothing, with my own money, because they needed clothes.

    These people are NOT imposing “Western” values on these kids in the orphanages.

    What people don’t realize is that these kids live in a culture where “appearances” are far more important than they are even in North America. They go to school together with kids who are not from orphanages. If somebody doesn’t go there and buy them clothing, they get ragged, hand-me-down clothes, shoes with holes, and have to share their underwear.

    This is reality.

    They are told by people in that culture that they are “just orphans”. They are not worth anything. These Canadians are showing them that they ARE worth something. The new clothing helps them avoid some of the ridicule they would otherwise get from the other kids at school.

    I HAVE ASKED these kids what they want and need. And I have seen it with my own eyes.

    Please don’t be so quick to judge things you know nothing about!

    What these guys are doing seems to be a very valuable thing, unlike what I have seen many “Missions Teams” do over there.

    How many of you have heard an orphan tell you “I am sick of having foreigners come here and give us some candy, tell us God loves us, and then say Good Bye!” These people are doing something that actually makes a difference.

    And the kids really do remember.

    Reply
  3. Talking about blowing gaskets…

    Mark’s post and the ensuing comments sure made me blow mine!

    What else would you propose to do to provide these kids with clothes? Some people ship their old worn clothing from North America – but that’s just stupid for a couple of reasons.

    First, it costs as much to ship the used clothing as it does to buy new stuff in places like Ukraine.

    Secondly, the other kids, and even the orphanage workers, laugh at the kids if they are wearing Canadian/American clothing fashions.

    What is wrong with taking the kids out to buy clothes when they need it? Would it be better to let them walk in the snow with coats and shoes that have holes, pants that are too small, and underwear they have to share? Just so we don’t influence them with our “Consumerism”?

    They are already FAR more obsessed with appearance in the former Soviet countries than we are here (especially for girls).

    Reply
  4. Bill, do you remember just a while ago when Fitch posted something about why the missional/emerging groups are made up basically of white folks. He pointed out something there that I’ve encountered for years as well, that the experience of white people burned out on consumerism isn’t universal. Now, while I agree with you (and a bunch of Mark’s commenters) that maybe this project isn’t the best way to help children in need (we don’t know the full extent of what this group does, though), I don’t know that it deserves the full throated repudiation that I’m hearing.

    Both of my daughters come from orphanages like those that these folks are trying to help. A lot of what Rainer just wrote resonates with what I’ve encountered. A shopping trip and a fashion show is a lot more meaningful to these kids than folks here seem to realize; it’s not as trivial as people are making it sound. I really think that we’re all reacting more out of our own toxic experience of Western Christianity than out of the actual experiences of these children and what this effort might mean to them. Just saying.

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  5. JMM and Rainer,
    I hear what both of you are saying. Mark worked amongst the poorest folk in South America for years. I’ve spent considerable time in Africa working with local NGOs. Both Mark and I have seen the impact of American consumerism on people who need a lot more than our short term dispersal of money. The approach in the videos seems to celebrate that very consumerism – whether it means to or not. That is what I reacted to and, I daresay, Mark reacted to as well.

    I’ve watched people see Nort Americanos as Santa’s who come bestow their gifts and disappear. Do children need to be clothed and fed properly. Yes! But they need to be loved in longterm relationship more. If that’s with these folk are doing, then God bless them – but let them celebrate that – rather than shopping and fashion shows.

    Reply
  6. You and Mark been to South America and Africa. Good for you. That is not the same as being in Ukraine – at all!

    You, and Mark, are basing your reactions on your experiences in a culture that is not at all the same.

    Before you judge, go talk to these kids first. I have – many times. I have had them in my house for weekends, I have fixed the heating systems in the orphanages, my children invited them to their birthday parties.

    I have also seen the damage done by “Missions Teams” that don’t have a clue.

    I have seen the damage done by well meaning Missionaries who come to Ukraine and think that what works in Africa will work there. It doesn’t.

    Before you judge, especially in a public forum like the internet, you might want to get your facts straightened out.

    And seriously – if you do want some facts, I would be happy to talk to you about it. I’m not that far away from you (I’m in Barrie nowadays).

    Reply
  7. Rainer,
    I am reacting to videos that state buying kids things will restore their dignity. It won’t. I don’t care whether you are in the Ukraine, Malawi or Turkmenistan. These may be fabulous people who are working with these orphans – and have hearts of pure gold – but what they are COMMUNICATING, intentionally or otherwise is a religion of consumerism. I may not know the Ukraine but I do have a modicum of experience in the communication arts.

    Reply
  8. Bill,

    I have been reading your blog for a couple of years now. Most of the time, I must say I agree with what you write.

    However, in this situation you really don’t know the facts.

    Could I find something to disagree with in their ministry? Of course I could, and I have (but this part of it isn’t it). Posting it on the internet wouldn’t help anybody.

    These people are simply doing what they can – and what the government run orphanages allow them to do.

    Your ignorance is showing.

    Sorry, but I have no better way of putting it.

    Reply
  9. Just a quick word in this hailstorm…

    A shopping trip will not restore a sense of worth and dignity. Just won’t. Clothes wear out and expectations for the next dignity-restoration session set in, because these kids are human.

    We have to revamp our whole short-term missions mentality where it’s not about us feeling good about “giving dignity,” but is about us sacrificing our lives for others while accepting their worth and value. Probably takes longer than 2 weeks. Probably costs more than a short-term mission trip.

    Dignity is restored through identification and identification is a costly way of living. We who have much cannot restore dignity to those who have little by giving tokens from our wealth.

    Actually it’s kinda demeaning when you think it through. And creates a dependency that is dehumanizing.

    And it’s complicated as heck because we’ve inherited a screwy philosophy of missions that is more about “me” than about “them” or the Kingdom.

    Reply
  10. Rainer,
    Let me first say that I’ve apologized for my overheated and inappropriate response on Mark’s blog. Let me do the same here and suggest that it would have been helpful for my words to be more measured. There was too much heat and not enough light in the original blog post – and I will put an update in it to that effect.

    I appreciate your care and concern for the Ukraine. I also very much appreciate your heart for missions. Let me humbly suggest however that there is a level of arrogance in saying that missions work in Africa and South America is completely different from that in the Ukraine. Even in my apparent ignorance, I recognize that culture sensitivity in any context is critical. (And do note that Africa is not a monolith – their are over 50 countries with their own cultures on that continent. Neither does South America have a monolithic culture for that matter.) It is the apparent lack of cultural sensitivity in these videos that I have reacted to, whilst these folk unwittingly or otherwise promote the consumerist values of their own culture. (“Shopping Spree,” “Fashion Shows”, “restoring dignity” by buying them stuff.)

    It is a tautological argument to suggest that those of us who have participated in significant and culturally aware missions work in other parts of the world are unable to understand or comment on the YouTube broadcasted missions work of North Americans in Eastern Europe because we’ve never been there. As Ray from Langley said on Mark’s blog,

    I do wish to take issue with the notion that Eastern Europe is somehow different as a defence of any project. All parts of the world are culturally unique with their own issues and contexts. That is without contention. That doesn’t preclude anyone with international experience from collaborating or critiquing a project. The underlying questions are the same across the regions and those questions must include sustainability, long term approaches, respect for local cultures, developing local economies etc. These international development issues transcend regions and are the measure of successful projects as we move forward in the 20 century.

    Glenn,
    Thank you for bringing your insight, experience and wisdom to the “hailstorm.”

    Reply

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