Better Together provides a space to share experiences with – and strategies for engaging – three critical global issues that PC(USA) global partners are challenging us to address together as the body of Christ. These three issues are 1) addressing root causes of poverty, especially as it impacts women and children; 2) sharing the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ; and 3) working for reconciliation in cultures of violence, including our own. The purpose of Better Together is to feed a conversation to shape concrete action strategies at the October 2012 “Dallas II: Better Together” consultation and beyond.
When I served as a Young Adult Volunteer in Argentina, I reflected back on my own experiences in doing mission trips prior to this year of service. Then I imagined a group from a wealthy community from East Asia coming to my church in Atlanta. They came to “help us” by upgrading our computer systems. They didn’t speak much of our language. They took a lot of pictures of themselves doing the work. They didn’t ask what we wanted, but it was free, so we took it. A huge personal check was presented to our pastor. As the visiting group engaged in their work, they took a lot of pictures of our children, which felt kind of odd. They didn’t otherwise spend much time getting to know us. They ate very little of the food we brought for them, when we were just trying to show appreciation. They stayed in the nicest hotels in town and did a lot of shopping too. They brought interesting toys for our kids, although most of our kids just fought over them. However, we did have some nice worship time together, a bit forced, but it was nice. We never saw them again, except to receive a letter from them, stating how much it meant for them to spend that week with us.
If you don’t see parallels in your church’s approach to mission, you’re blessed. The fact is many congregations are meeting their own needs through mission trips and partnerships. In doing so, they often do more damage to their host country than good. Notice also what’s assumed in that statement – that we’re doing mission to do good to someone. We’re going to do mission to someone. We naïvely think we’re doing good by helping build something or receive something, or we are foolishly thinking that we are bringing God’s light to a place that heretofore was not blessed with divine presence (never mind the death and destruction in one’s own country or community).
So what do we need? To garner the wisdom from centuries of mission work, including that of PCUSA. We need to reconsider our models and theologies of mission. So the questions remain: How do we engage in partnership? In meaningful reflection? And where are the resources?
Yes, we have them here and there, but not front and center. I wonder what would happen if they were easy to find? What if they played a more prominent role in presbytery meetings? I wonder what would happen if we had a statement on the theology and models of mission in our Constitution?
We can write the most thoughtful of theological statements, but how is this information used and dispersed?