Monday, April 16, 2012

A New Commandment

In my perfect world Ash would be the ideal guy to model missions on. Wisecracking plays, knowledge is only moderately useful, shop smart shop S-Mart, and always go with the boom-stick and chainsaw combo. Unfortunately there is a little issue with reality, and just because a bunch of other people like to ignore it doesn't mean I get to.

"What are we doing?" it's a question a friend of mine in ministry asks all the time. It's a question I've been asking a lot lately as well. Not from a defeatist, pull your hair out, drown your sorrows sort of way... at least not mostly. It's a question that needs an answer, or at least a good effort at one. I asked it a bit when in Uganda, a bit more in San Diego, and a whole lot now that I'm in Haiti. The answer is slowly becoming simple, but that doesn't mean it's any easier to walk out.

I believe humanitarians don't need to be Christians, but that Christians need to be humanitarians. You can't possibly read the prophets, or the New Testament, and come to any other conclusion. Here is the problem, the humanitarian aid community (faith based or otherwise) has caused a lot of damage in a lot of places. Haiti was better off several decades ago before a bunch of mostly well meaning people decided to lend a hand. It was a mess and had a bunch of need and opportunity to serve, but a lot of what took place destroyed a nation. If you don't believe me read Travesty In Haiti, by Timothy Schwartz... for that matter read it any way. He spent ten years over here and lived out a bunch of the stuff I've glimpsed and suspected. A bunch of it I've seen other places as well, tho not nearly as condensed as here.

As a side note, if you are a book geek and you want to experience slingshot idealism, read The End Of Poverty, followed by White Mans Burden, and then Travesty In Haiti. At the end of the first you will want to turn Sachs into a saint, after the second you'll think he is a bit of an idealist and at best simpleminded, by the end of the third you'll want to drag him out into the street by his toenails and do some pretty horrendous stuff to him. Then, remember he's a good guy who's spent a chunk of his life trying to figure out how to help people and make the world a better place.

Here is the thing, there is a big difference between helping and wanting to help. They are both good, but they don't always go together, especially when you expand the scale and reduce personal interaction. Even when you keep it small and maintain personal interaction it is easy to screw things up. Because guess what? Living in a different culture means the things you thought were logic, common sense, and natural no longer play. This isn't right or wrong, it just is. And so you ask yourself, "What am I doing?"

What I've come to believe is that the Gospel is universal in it's significance and applicability, it's the power of God and it's meant to set people free. It quite possibly is the only thing that really matters. Everyone needs this... I need this. Here is the catch, I don't think it can be enacted outside community. At least not usually. The sucky thing about this "catch" is that community is often difficult, time consuming, and carries a high personal cost. It takes a lot of the glamor out of missions and ministry, and it's something I'm not always that good at. An emphasis on the Gospel and community doesn't eliminate the need for humanitarian/charitable action, rather it provides a framework of accountability, feedback, and insight into what the real needs are... not the ones we perceive from the other side of the world and are happy to throw our money at. So I ask myself, "What am I doing?"

I'm slowly figuring out how to answer this question in a way I can apply to my life, and I hope I'm not the only one. In the mean time I'm trying to live by a new commandment: Don't Break Anything. This is also known as: do no harm, don't piss in the pool, think then act, caring doesn't always equal compassion, want isn't the same as need, money corrupts and a lot of money corrupts a lot more, If you don't give your kids a bag of candy what makes you think it's a good idea with another person's kids (except for me, you can always give me candy), spitting on someone is sometimes a compliment but don't ever role the dice, doing nothing may be the most productive thing you do all day, and if you can't laugh at yourself what's the point?


  1. Good words. When we first came out here, we learned a lot of missionaries (including us) had an Ash mentality, believing they knew how to solve all the problems that nobody did before them. It's an easy mentality to get, especially in a country where 150+ years of missionaries have succeeded in converting about 1% of the population.

    So many missionaries (here, at least) are doing their own thing, and a lot even want nothing to do with the other missionaries cuz they believe they're doing it wrong. That's where community is hardest, but (as you say) it's probably the most important.