Tuesday, May 19, 2009

When methodologies collide....

Sometimes we see things here that are frustrating. Normally we try not to let them get to us, to walk away and wipe them from our psyche and hold no ill-will. Sometimes that task is a little harder. Let me tell you about yesterday. Actually, first, a little back history. Our house is in front of a school. Like directly in front of it. If there is a stiff wind while the kids pee on the school wall (lack of latrines) it might hit our front gate. That's how close we are. This is a National Government school, which means it is often on strike, but when it is functioning we see the kids, they play with our kids and neighbors. I speak with some of the teachers who might come and sit on the bench under the shade of our tree once in a while and chat during the afternoon break. I am learning how their school functions, where they grew up, what their lives are like,etc. I don't know if I would call them friends, but everything is a relationship in progress :)

The school yard from the vantage point of my front yard


So yesterday afternoon during the school time two trucks came filled with white people. I am saying white people simply because they were white, spoke english and I don't know what country they were from, and I won't identify here which organization was emblazoned on the door of the truck. I am guessing a short term visiting team? They brought with them boxes of books. More specifically, soft cover Sunday school type materials with Bible stories in them. They emptied all their boxes and handed out these books to all the children. They video taped the whole event while handing them out, smiling children, etc then they drove off. Paul walked up just when they were leaving and found out what had just happened. He was not impressed to say the least. He saw some of the kids jumping up and down on piles of the books, tearing out the pages and flinging them around and jumping on them. Small fires were set for some. The teachers didn't try to stop them. Our neighbor boy, who does not attend the school, also had a copy which was torn and dismantled within minutes. This morning when I walked outside you can see the sand littered with bits and pieces of the pages all over the sand.

Shredded pages of the books blown up against our garden fence.


This one struck me as particularly poignant. I remnant of a page that is torn and says only "Dieu voulait" - God wanted.


This morning a bunch of parents (around 40 according to my guard outside) descended on the school, clearly very mad that the school (a govt school in a Muslim country) had allowed this to happen on school grounds, and if they hadn't given permission for it (we have no idea if they did) that the teachers allowed it to happen. I will give them the benefit of the doubt that they did in fact get permission from someone higher up, that they have a relationship with someone in the school who maybe invited them or told them it would be ok? That just never got passed on to the teachers or parents. They were extremely upset and mad and mistrustful of the strangers who had no relationship with the school and just descended in a "carpet bomb" of literature at a public school, took pictures, then left. A few of the teachers said they didn't know anything about it ahead of time and were surprised and upset it had happened too. I guess they didn't feel powerful enough in their own jobs though to go challenge these people handing out freebies on their school yard during recess.

I feel sad about the waste of those books. Had they been more appropriately targeted then lots wouldn't have been shredded and destroyed. I know there are local churches here who would have probably really appreciate them. I feel fairly sure the supporters who purchased those materials would not be happy either. I am sad that the school teachers and especially parents are totally mistrustful now of the efforts of white strangers and we worry about impact on our own relationships there. I am trying hard here to understand. I am trying hard to see a benefit of this type of drop off. There was no relational context at all and to our guards and neighbors.

I know that my heart and personality beats for building strong long term relationships and working in development to better the lives of the people here. I know that people have different approaches, opinions, etc. I really do get that and by no means think there is only one approach to love people and reach them. But really I am struggling with this one. My other neighbors are angry as well. They are a well to do Muslim family we have being slowly befriending ever since we moved in next door. Our guards saw it happen and were mad at the "typical missionaries!" (their words - not mine!) Haven't we learned and grown as people and grown in our respect and love for each other, for cultures and for building relationships. Really - I just don't get it. I am not trying at all to slam this effort or their hearts motivations, I am trying to understand.

Pray for us as we now talk with these neighbors and parents who are angry now. We aren't sure ourselves quite what to say.

For us, sharing our faith is very relationally built. As I sit with my language tutor, the village ladies etc, eventually they want to know about me too. They want to know why I would leave the land of riches (North America) to live here in the "heat and poverty". And I tell them why. I have hours under their straw roofs to talk and share tea and watch our kids play. We talk about hygiene, education, breastfeeding skills, crops, cultural mess-ups I have made, words I don't yet know and our children. We also talk about love, life, faith and hope. And I love it.

Feel free to share in the comment section your thoughts, insights, experiences etc with different methodologies, maybe you have some insight or words I could really use to help me understand this one. Opinions are welcome on the issue. No bashing please. Slander won't be tolerated and will be deleted. I believe above all that we are all here to love the people of Niger and no one is trying to purposely hurt the ministry of people, or act in an unintentional fashion.

So this may be a little heavy and more theological than our normal blog fodder - but this is our life :)



Anonymous said...

This saddens my heart as well...I know I'm not qualified to add anything other than to pray for great wisdom for you and Paul as you communicate your love and concern to your new friends and neighbors. I do think if this group is N.American perhaps we can inform them how this visit was perceived - so it could be a learning tool. Insensitivity to other cultures can be based on ignorance. heather

Rick said...

I agree, I would definitely let the higher ups of the ministry know how this was perceived and how much it possibly hurt your current relationships.

It takes so much to build relationships, to build trust. I fully believe short-term missions is awesome, that God uses those teams, and that they have a place in reaching the world. At the same time, I believe that probably only 5% of short-term teams actually have any long-term affect on the ministry (whatever the number, it's low).

Anywhere from a $100,000,000 to $1,000,000,000 is spent EACH YEAR, for short-term teams to go to Tijuana. To my knowledge, the affects of that money are not being shown. Could you imagine what one billion dollars per year of ministry could do to further the gospel in that one city, in the world?

My strong feelings are probably showing, lol. But, like I said before, I believe in short-term team, but in long-term partnerships. I believe they are an integral way of helping the ministry and continuing to promote the work of missions. But, they must always be based in relationship and partnerships.

Carrien said...

I think this kind of thing happens when western Christians fail to truly identify themselves with those who live in poverty poor and instead allow that to dehumanize them. All it would take is a second to consider, "How would I feel, as a parent, if a Muslim group showed up at my kids school at recess and distributed literature?" That question could have stopped the waste and the insult caused.

The fundamental mistake, I think, is to assume that just because people are poor, they have no mind, no pride, and no preference.

Just my thought on the subject.

Scuzzlewump said...

I must agree that just reading this shocked me....that they would just drive up, give the kids the books, and drive away.
Carrien is right...if that sort of thing happened here, we'd probably react the same way. To be quite honest, even being a Christian, if some group drove up to my child's playground, handed out some Christian books, and took off, I'd be more than a little concerned, not only for their methods, but also for the safety of my children!
And I could certainly see the kids on my child's playground stomping on and ripping them, too. Why? because they are kid, because they can, because, to some of them, it's FUNNY.
I hope your neighbours understand that these people's behaviour is not YOU, is not connected to the colour of your skin, and continue to grow their relation with you.
Hopefully people from future groups will read your post, and consider better ways to reach out to the communities.

AnitaWester said...

Chantelle, ever since my junior high days, I have looked up to and respected you and Paul as leaders. Not only as my youth leaders, but leaders in the sense that you blaze trails where others are content to follow the well-beaten path. You seek to truly understand the people of Niger and how BEST to love them, while the rest of the world thinks it's as easy as dumping literature on them.
I'm reading a book right now called "End of the Spear" by Steve Saint (you would love it!) that has really opened my eyes to how truly diverse mindsets are from one culture to the next. As North Americans, far too often we just expect that everyone thinks the same way we do, and it comes as a shock when we realize they don't! For us (or any well-to-do country) to invade a country like Niger and expect that our "gifts" will be received the way we intended them to seems perfectly natural...but we don't realize that as pure as our motives and intentions may be, all that shines through is our lack of understanding of the world around us.
I do agree that there is a place for short-term missions. But if the short-term team is not connected to a long-term base that really has immersed itself in the culture and established a rapport with the people, I think the impact of the short-term team will be really quite limited. That's why I'm so happy that God raises up people like you who genuinely seek to know and love the people of Niger, and use that passion to show them the Father's love. Your efforts do not go unnoticed in Heaven or on Earth. Be blessed, sister!

Cindy said...


My heart is heavy for you after reading this post. So typical. We go through the same things out here. I have stopped taking 'visitors' to schools if all they want is a 'photo' op.! If they greet to leave cameras, books and candy back on the compound then they can go. I know it seems harsh, but they have no idea what happens after they leave, and the 'mess' we sometimes have to clean up. We have worked for a long time building relationships and it can be torn down in such a short time. I DO NOT mean to discourage you...It just frustrates me...


Leanne said...

I have been fascinated and captivated with the persecuted church over the past 5-6 years and one thing that I have learned from different books and research that I have done is that so often the 'help' that we North Americans offer is not always so helpful.
I truly believe in most cases people have the best of intentions and are not malicious in what they are doing, and I appreciate the comment that you made about the probably reactions of those who 'funded' the books.
I think that as 'white' people we have some sort of complex that we are the ones who will save the world, and it is important that we realize not only how false that statement is, but also the damage that we can inflict in these situations.
We need to take the time to understand how our actions are going to affect others before we march off to do them.
I remember reading a story about the Chinese churhc in the early nineties and the devestation that 'bible bombing', done by North Americans', had on the house church there, reminded me of your situation as you are now left to pick up the pieces.
I pray that God can use this situation to open doors instead of close them.

DMC WCD said...

Thanks Chantelle for this thought provoking post.I will get it around to others in the WCD.

Cliff said...

Thanks for this post. WE need to change how we look at the world so that we move from a paternalistic viewpoint to one of humility, learning, relationship and understanding. I have had the opportunity of sending many short term mission trips around the world . . . and we must always go through established ministries in the area who have a long term commitment to the community we're working in. Consider reading: Cross-Cultural Servanthood by Duane Elmer. As well, consider Disciple Nations Alliance and the books they suggest. Keep on serving the Lord . . . may His Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven!

Anonymous said...

Hello, Chantelle,
This is Larry Charter, former International Worker in Guinea and Cote D'Ivoire. Just wanted to say how RIGHT ON you were with your "When Methadologies Collide" blog. Oh how many times I saw this same kind of thing when we were in Africa. People are sometimes well meaning (I guess) but often completely off track to being culturally (and religiously) sensative. Oh how many times I had to go into villages and mop up after some group came in to "do evangelism their way". I would often plead with these groups to at least have the courteousy to consult us as carreer workers trying desperately hard to extablish friendships and connect with our dear African family. We would remain behind long after they had gone. Sadly, many were only there for a good photo op or to use their parachute in approach to raise the big $$$. At times it made me furious and completely skeptical of every group that came to visit our country.

May I assure you (and hopefully encourage you) that your frustrations are COMPLETELY justified and understood by myself and others who TRULY understand what it is to go cross cultural in ministry.

Have courage, dear friends. God can still unravel some pretty twisted up situations in life. Let's pray with you that He gives you wisdom for this one.

With grateful apppreciation,
Larry Charter
Cochrane, Alberta

Bob the Dog said...

I totally understand your frustration too. The other "missionaries" used a cowardly form of evangelizing that does not work. What you and Paul are doing does work. By going about your daily lives and being an example the locals will want to know why you're different and why you're special. What you're doing is the long term, hard, down and dirty - but totally worth it method!!! God bless your work there. Love you guys.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this blog. Having travelled on short-term missions rather recently, it was hard to understand the concept 'don't bring candy or money to give out'. Why couldn't we show our appreciation for these people that obviously do not have much?

Thankfully, we had this good advice! The damage done by previous, more uninformed visitors was clearly apparent, the children having turned into dependant 'beggars' and 'harassers' of sorts.

I cannot imagine the frustration you are feeling but I am most certainly glad you are there to represent the Jesus love that doesn't just drop in, take photos and leave. Thank you for your service.

Bryan said...

I picked up the following stat at my perspectives course from one of the C&MA missions executives: two-third's of all short-term missions trips are to holiday destinations (Mexico, South America, even Lake Louise!!!). Short-term missions trips in this respect are truly a waste of anyone's money--who isn't actually going on the holiday (or more specifically, income-tax-credit funded trip).

What you witnessed Chantelle, was in all likelyhood a classic example of why short-term missions trips, even to non-holiday destinations, can be such a waste.

I think that the bulk of these useless short term missions trips could be cleared up if we dealt with the funding issue. And that is, people pay their own way and don't raise support through donations.

If people are paying for their own fare on a trip, one would suspect they may put a little more thought into what kind of trip their investing in (both in terms of time and money) and what the purpose of this investment is. If it's just to pass-out a couple hundred books of literature during the day and sight-see at night, I suspect many wouldn't cough up their own dough.

I personally cannot financially support sending kids (young or old) on missions trips, especially when they have laptops, iPods, snowboards and $1000+ annual cellphone bills.

If people were left to put their treasure where their heart was, I think we'd see a lot more sincere and passionate people on short-term missions trips. We'd also see a lot fewer people on short-term trips.

judy said...

Thanks Chantelle for your continued sharing of insight and your willingness to tell it like it is.
My husband and I organized a fairly recent short term trip to an asian country to visit long term missionary friends who are running a feeding program that our church supports. So we wanted to see our money "in action" so to speak. While there we visited other spots and did some of the same kind of things that this group did in the school next door to you. I have had misgiving since, and to some degree while there, about what we were doing and the value of the trip in general. The missionary we visited largely organized our days while there and his major thinking was that he just wanted north american Christians to see the country and see just what they as missionaries experienced. Other missionaries I have heard of say kind of similar things, that if vistors come, the long term interest (and money) will follow.

But I still have misgivings and really want to do more trips, I think! But am not sure what is the best way to do them now. Your blog has re-inforced my misgivings. Not to bash what you said, because I agree wholeheartedly with you, but am just not sure what is the best way to do trips.

I agree with the last poster, that trip participants should be expected to pay for their own way, except maybe for truely "funds challenged" individuals who realy do have a heart for foreign missions.

Anyway, all this to say that I have very mixed feelings about the value of these trips and maybe to the extent that I don't want to be involved with them much anymore. But I am not sure...

God bless you and Paul and the folks you work with. We have had the pleasure to get to know Lisa some this last year while she has been home!

my 5 cents said...

I am with you here. For some reason it is a major western misconception that our gospel is a "disembodied" one - that somehow it is only the words that matter and not how the message is delivered or lived out. I am of the opinion that God has chosen his people to embody the gospel - not just distribute it. Is not the power of the gospel wrapped up in not only the message itself, but the transformed life of the message bearer reaching out in relationship to the lost?