Once a year, a church that I used to attend would gear up for their big mission trips. It was a large, wealthy, mostly white church and they’d plan 3-4 trips over a couple month period of time (short term missions season). We’d be deluged with these “moving” videos and power point presentations of how “those” people are. How “they” are living. How the Gospel can be used to transform “them.” All to the steady drumbeat of “now give us money so we can send our youth/members over there.” Now I’ve always had a bit of a problem with this kind of missionary work (as opposed to being a missional church). It always smacked of being more about the outreachers than the outreachees. When people came back from the trips, the reports were all about what God did for me, what God showed me, here’s how I was impacted. And how was this justified? “If just one soul was saved, then it was all worth it.”

Expletive. Deleted.

Don’t get me wrong, obeying and doing should always have an impact on a the person doing the doing. If more people would shut up about how Christian they were and live it out instead (letting their good deeds replace their often empty rhetoric) then we’d be a lot better off. On the other hand, so you go over “there,” build your school, orphanage, or church, come back all *changed*, give a weepy report, read the “thank you o rich and gracious American” letters and give Jesus a good pat on the back. Typically, depending on where they are going, a 20 person team has to raise about $1000 each in order to go on one of those trips (the last letter I received from a would be missionary was for $1500, but I want to keep the math simple). That’s about $20 K to send folks to essentially vacation for Jesus. I would be willing to bet that whatever group you were going to help could do a lot more in Jesus’ name if you just cut them a check for the $20K. It’s not like locals can’t do the work of 20 teenagers. Admit that these are cheerleading sessions for the church–“Go Jesus! Look what we did! Yay us!”–and call it a day.

This still left a couple things that troubled me:
1. What sort of impact are we having on “them”? My contention has been that for missionary work to have lasting impact, it has to be long-term and incarnational. Wherever it is done. Lasting transformation on the “missionary,” which we all are, and on people they are evangelizing. Discipleship is a process, an often longer process than we are comfortable admitting in our “ten weeks to know Jesus” culture. If I am on a STM for a week or doing a day-long “project,”it’s more about making us feel better, like we “did” something. One-time gifts, one-time labor is easy. It doesn’t really cost us anything. Follow up, building relationships – those things are true investments.

2. Where does this “us” vs. “them” mentality come from? Missionary work has become so about “over there” that we’ve become convinced that that’s the only way missionary work can be done – as opposed to being incarnational, living among the people you want to minister to. You know what? I’m glad when anyone in America takes an interest in Africa. Rwanda. Sudan. The AIDs epidemic. We are conveniently silent about a lot that goes on in Africa. However, it’s the whole idea of the “otherliness” of the people we want to evangelize that got me thinking today.

The same suburban church that I used to attend–which mind you, does a lot of good things–decided that it wanted to do missionary work here in town, in the inner city. Good! I’m all about evangelizing in your own backyard. It was going to be an every week ministry. Good! That would allow relationships to be built and true discipleship to be done. They want a lasting impact on the workers. Good! We are transformed by doing. They want to reclaim the neighborhood for Jesus. Good. Uh, reclaim? Because “they” need Christ, too. “They”? Who “they”? When did “we” become “they”? “They” derived their same identity and worth from the same Trinity that “you” do.

Maybe I just like to complain about stuff. You know, maybe I woke up on the grumpy side of my Christian bed. That’s not beyond the realm of possibility. However, I’ve been hearing a lot of discussion on the topic of post-colonialism and what that means. So I thought that I’d examine the topic and figure out what all the chatter is about.