A few years ago, I realized that there is a BIG problem with the way that westerners do missions. And because of it, I almost didn’t submit an application to be part of the Musana trip. I could write a whole blog post about it, but let me just sum up:
- Believing we have to transfer our whole culture onto another culture rather than just the gospel (think how we made women dress “modestly” according to our standards)
- Doing things that they could do for themselves (other cultures know how to build buildings too, and taking that work away from local laborers – usually done by people with limited construction experience)
- Going with a mindset of “fixing” people/culture rather than building relationships and learning from each other (as though we have it all together and know how to solve the world’s problems…)
- Not teaching others to stand on their own – and even go and create disciples themselves – but creating situations of dependency (think parenting: the ultimate goal should be that the children become self-sufficient adults contributing to society)
- Doing short-term projects that don’t bring long-term change to broken situations but just result in good feelings for the people that went on the trip
You can imagine the relief and joy that I felt upon learning that my church has the exact same concerns and mindset with how to approach missions! That’s just one of many, many, many things my team talked about this weekend during our planning retreat – aided by the Missions Dilemma series by Steve Saint (a lifelong missionary whose father was killed by the very people they were trying to serve).
Our team is going to Musana to help with the VBS (Vacation Bible School) program. This summer-camp-esque, creative-and-hands-on, outside-the-classroom learning is not a concept that they have in Uganda – but they like it and are interested in it! And they may want to take the concept outside of Musana to the local village to offer a program there for their children.
Like everything Musana does and every way that my church partners with them, the ultimate goal is self-sufficiency. This is the third year that we (as in, a team from my church) has done VBS there. The first year was us leading, last year was us partnering with the staff there to do it together. This year, the idea is for us to do the overall planning but the Ugandans do the majority of the implementation. So, for example, at the games station we may have one of our leaders help lead the first group that comes through but then have the Musana staff run the next four groups that come through.
As we broke into groups to do our planning this weekend, there was one station that was different though: the Bible story. As I sat in that group helping figure out supplies and activities that might be needed, I learned that for the most part in Uganda no one teaches Bible stories except pastors (and that is generally done in a traditional sermon-type method – less interesting for children). What’s more, they may not currently have a pastor at Musana right now as I believe he left for some schooling.
In other words, no one to teach the Bible stories at VBS. This may be the only break-out station where we are still going to be running it.
And they asked me to do it.
I’ll admit, sitting in the planning session I was racking my brain trying to figure out how I could teach someone how to tell Bible stories to children. It really is a skill that takes some practice, and was worried if it could really be done in just a one meeting once we arrived. It would have been easier to just do it myself. And now it looks like that is what may occur. We honestly won’t know until we get there.
While easier to tell stories myself than teach someone how to do it, it doesn’t mean that I don’t still get nervous EVERY SINGLE TIME before I go onstage. And now I’ll be doing twenty-five story-tellings in five days? Yipes! That’s more than I do in a whole year! And while I’ve observationally learned enough child psychology and sociology over the years to tell a story to 100 American kids at a time, how will it culturally be different with 100 Ugandan kids (via a translator, no less)?
But what’s scariest to me is that it’s not just children that’ll be listening. Their teachers and other staff and adults will be there as well. In other words, the very people we hope in the future will take things like VBS and telling Bible stories to their local communities.
I feel the weighty responsibility of missions and the importance of culturally-sensitive, locally-empowering missions. What if they see me tell the story of the ten lepers, and decide that it’s something that they are incapable of doing themselves? That teaching – or, as I like to think of it, story-telling – is something that can only be done by pastors and white Americans?
My problem with over-thinking things is haunting me once again. I have a fear that my missions work at Musana will be incompetent. That I will hurt instead of help. I know that the only way I can get over this is to give it over to God. To trust that the being that created the universe can also use me as a mouthpiece.
Start praying now, folks.