What Were they Thinking? The Case of the Mission Trip that Went Bad
The situation in Haiti has grabbed the attention of the world, and many of us have given through our relief agencies in support of the cause. As Amy Gopp, Executive Director of Week of Compassion, pointed out in the video I posted earlier today, what we at home can do is pray, give to responsible agencies, and then stay home, at least until such time as our skills can be used in rebuilding the country of Haiti. That is good advice, and groups like Church World Service, World Vision, ACT International, along with other NGO's and government groups are there in Haiti doing what they can to assist the Haitians in their time of deep need.
But then there is the bizarre story of ten white Southern Baptists from Idaho who got arrested for kidnapping and human trafficking. The story is a bit hard to sort out, but apparently, a woman who has been trying to build an "orphanage" in the Dominican Republic was able to get these folks to come down and help her "rescue" Haitian orphans and take them across the border. They are now sitting in jail as a result.
Now, some in the US have cried foul, and its likely that the US government will quickly extricate the members of this mission trip from their cells. But the question is what were they thinking quickly comes to the fore.
Anthea Butler, in today's Religion Dispatches essay, helps us understand the context -- including why the Haitians took this action. She sets it in the context of the long history of white missionaries going into "foreign lands," take children from their families, and either put them up for adoption or put them in Christian schools -- for their own good so they can get civilized.
The misplaced missionary impulse to save the heathen children and impart “civilization” by loading a bunch of Haitian kids in a bus and heading for a resort with a swimming pool, to share the “good news” and be adopted, is simply ludicrous. No reputable missions organization works that way. Still, despite the group’s irresponsible and crude behavior, I suspect that many in America thought that the missionaries would be on a transport home by now.
Frankly, if anyone in the group had even bothered to read Haiti’s Wikipedia page, they might have thought twice about a plan to take black children out of the country without paperwork. By disregarding even the most basic history of slavery, missions, or colonial activity in Haiti, their missionary impulse failed them miserably. With all of the missions already on the ground in Haiti, what made them think they could just take children out of the country? The ignorance and naïveté of this group is staggering, except when considered from the perspective of the evangelical imperative of Go ye into all the world. Last time I checked, however, that scripture did not mean take children and make them Christians by spiriting them away to be adopted by other families.
So, we should all take this as a reminder to give as we can, but let the responsible agencies do their work! And let's remember too, that it's not right to use a tragedy like this to further other aims like "world evangelism." As Anthea notes, using pictures of a luxury hotel with a pool to lure children to come join the little caravan is simply unethical, and not an expression of the gospel.
Ultimately, all of this is a lot about "me" and not about those in need!
The real crux of the issue is this: these ten do-gooders walked into the trap many well-meaning white evangelical Christians fall into: those poor brown/black/yellow/red people need My help. Jesus wants Me to help them. To much of white American Evangelical Christianity, the We often means Me. It’s what God Called Me to do. It’s what God would want Me to do. The problem with the Me mentality of much of conservative Evangelical Christianity is that they often can’t see the We—the people of Haiti—who love their kids so much they’re willing to let some white people who claim to be “Christians” take them away to what they promise will be “a better life.”
The focus on Me takes away from the real ways that people in disasters can be helped without the insertion of well-meaning, clueless interlopers into their story. The New Life group is now finding out what living in an impoverished and earthquake-ravaged country is like. Perhaps now they will begin to understand what it means to live alongside the poor, as opposed to swooping into a disaster for a quick “feel-good Christian moment” designed to make them feel better about themselves. Hopefully, other groups will rally to do the real work that is still so urgently needed, and make a long-term commitment to bring life and stability to Haiti and its children who are in desperate need of it.
So, you want to help, let me suggest that you think of working through a responsible agency, like Week of Compassion.