The blogosphere is riddled with enthusiastic reports by new missionaries starting ‘grand adventures.’ What is missing is the other side of the circle: disengagement. What follows is a guest post, shared with permission of the author, but edited for length. This honest post grapples with disappointment, pain, burnout, and disillusionment. May it balance the blogosphere.
I have been wrestling for almost 2 years with some of the things I see going on with Western Churches and organizations which are engaged part-time in Africa — either in poverty relief or Spiritual mentoring. I have seen a blatant disregard for the dramatic differences in culture and a kind of imperialistic ‘we must save the poor African’ kind of attitude. I have also seen us lead with money, turning good Church bodies into corrupt battlegrounds who are no longer proclaiming the Gospel as they fight over western resources and the power that it brings.
Africa is poorer economically and Spiritually than when I first came to her, while many organizations continue with exactly the same kind of poverty alleviation ministries that got her there in the first place. It amazes me that normally conservative thinking people will dump money into “Social Programs” in Africa while railing about the dependency created by the very same kind of programs here in the US. Additionally, our very wealth seems to taint efforts at Discipleship and spreading the Gospel, because our resources attract the corrupt and corrupt those who were on the right track before we came. Certainly, what we are doing is not working.
A full-time Missionary goes into a place and spends years assimilating the culture before engaging in ‘Jesus business.’ This was extremely successful in areas like Bible translation and spreading the Gospel to the unreached and it still seems to be a viable strategy. Unfortunately it’s a strategy the modern, instant gratification, western world now finds unacceptable.
Most of my efforts for the last 8 years have been focused on trying to guide congregations returning from short-term missions to do the right things for Africa (which usually means doing nothing other than learning about the culture). Successes have been few as most of the lessons fall on deaf ears. After almost 25 years of part-time engagement in Short-term Missions, I have decided to retire. I will be withdrawing from all boards immediately. I am tired and frustrated.
Am I done with Africa? No, I am not. Once the mud of Africa gets between your toes it’s impossible to get out! My prayers will be with you and your endeavors, as I know each of you are trying to live out your Faith, in part, through your work in Africa. I will also pray for the many friends I have across the continent and I look forward to visiting as a friend.
I do retire somewhat despondent but far from beaten. The Savior has shown me unbelievable things and amazing peoples. That will be enough as it is exactly what He intended!
Mzee Chief Keith
Keith has engaged in part time overseas ministry for almost 24 years. His first encounter with the Mission field was in support of Lutheran Bible Translators missionaries in Liberia, West Africa in 1991. It was a place that was in true need of aid due to their ongoing civil war. Preparation for that trip was extensive: 6 months of intensive cross cultural training that included a lengthy reading list and weekly training sessions with seasoned missionaries.
The next 10 years were spent training and leading teams of young adults and teens on short term missions in South America, Mexico, and Africa. It was during this time that he learned that the only successful path was to collaborate with missionaries who are already working on the ground.
For the subsequent 13 years Keith focused focused on his first love, Africa. Recently he has attempted to mentor congregations and small NGOs to increase their cross-cultural competency before they engage with the culture or a project.