A couple of years ago, my parents sent me to Cambodia on a missions trip during my Summer holidays. I think the main reason they paid for me to go was because they knew I would get crazy bored at home and they wanted to keep me out of trouble. Anyway, I was beyond excited and so thankful to them for allowing me to go. It ended up being quite a mixed experience.
I set off, ready to eradicate poverty and change the world. I went with a couple of (middle aged) ladies from my church, which wasn’t ideal for my sixteen year old self. I had to pray and go to church during my time over there. I had to sing songs about Jesus with the kids. I didn’t feel great about that. I wished my parents would have put the money towards a secular volunteering trip with World Vision or something like that, but I was lucky they were giving me this opportunity, I wasn’t going to complain.
So anyway, we went over there and did our thing. We handed out meals to people in the slums despite the fact that the food would barely last a day, tomorrow they would be hungry again. I washed head-lice out of kid’s hair, knowing that the process for getting rid of lice is not as simple as one wash. I even gave slum women manicures, cause that’s totally important when you’re scrounging for food in a garbage dump all day. After watching a preacher tell the Good News to a group of slum dwellers and seeing them rapidly converted, I realised that this trip was not about helping people overcome poverty, but about doing nice things for them so that they would listen to us when we tried to convert them. I really should have suspected something when I saw that our trip slogan was (something like): “We can’t change the world, but we can show His love.” I was really disappointed that I was not helping change people’s lives.
I had been given some money to spend on helping these people. Our team leader asked me to put it towards a trip a water park for the slum kids. I said no. I wanted to actually help people have better lives. A sustainable, healthy, progressive standard of living. The team leader said to me: “These kids would never get a chance to do anything like this! It could be the best day of their lives.” Nope. I will not spend money on this when many of them won’t have any food to come home to, or enough money to pay for high school. I want the best day of lives to be their university graduation or their wedding day. I want them to grow old and reach their full potentials. The notion that a day at the pool could be the best day of their lives is precisely why I could not give my money to that.
I wonder how much money of Christian missionaries is wasted on “showing them Jesus’s love” rather than combatting poverty. So much effort is put into manipulating these people so that they will be receptive to the gospel. It felt like we were farmers, fattening up our pigs so that they would be ready when the time came for the kill. It seems to be nothing more than the manipulation of the poor and uneducated. So I’m not a big fan of this type of Christian mission.