In Matthew 25:35-36ff, Jesus illustrates the loving action expected of his authentic followers. But what if by doing such things you are seen as a manipulative extension of a colonial oppressor?
Westerners can be a naïve and arrogant lot. We can so easily decide what’s best for the rest and blindly dive into “fixing” situations we know very little about. “But it’s in their best interests,” we say. “Anyone can see they clearly need...” But did anyone bother to ask them?
I recently had the privilege of sharing at a retreat with Pioneers members ministering in Christianised East Africa, where ministry is more developmental than evangelistic. As I listened to the challenges and heartbreaks of those who have given up their comfortable lives and lucrative careers to help the gospel bear fruit in their host communities I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why are we here?”
Jennifer Worth was a devout Christian, author and musician. Her book, Call the Midwife, was a recent popular television series. She also wrote In the Midst of Life, a book about death and dying. She makes the audacious claim that the invention of CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) and its unquestioned use has created a wide range of unforeseen negative consequences. She maintained that just because we can do a thing doesn’t mean we should.
Well-informed development workers know this. Well-intentioned Christians learn it the hard way.
At the East Africa retreat I had conversations with several Pioneers couples working in Uganda and South Sudan who lamented the creation and perpetuation of orphanages by Western Christians. While helpful in a time of crisis and displacement when communities are fractured, orphanages that become institutions in peacetime can be very destructive to the social fabric of tribal groups. It becomes too easy for parents under pressure to drop their children off at an orphanage, hoping they’ll be fed, clothed and educated. From the child’s perspective they have been abandoned, robbed of their cultural identity, and they can be scarred for life.
So, should we just ignore Jesus’ encouragement to good works? Heaven forbid! But our attitude should emulate Christ Jesus: who having access to every resource didn’t consider it something to be wielded but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (paraphrasing Philippians 2:5-7).
To a person, everyone I met at the East Africa Pioneers retreat exemplified this attitude. They were reflective practitioners of Christ-centered development. Many African co-workers joined us and we celebrated God’s goodness through trial as we listened to His voice speaking through one another, lamented together, and then rejoiced in worship as one.
My answer to why is Pioneers there? Because koinonia trumps colonialism every time!
– Jamie Matenga Wood is the Director of Pioneers in New Zealand and leads the Mobilisation Track of the World Evangelical Alliance Missions Commission. Pioneers is a strategic partner of Mission World.