Monday, March 28, 2011

#211 Taking pictures with poor foreign children during missions trips

Christian culture’s preoccupation with third-world countries has fostered many a missions trip. Homelessness and hunger are right under everyone’s nose but the social dichotomy in North America allows you to stay reasonably oblivious to it. Besides, it would be a little obnoxious to conduct a slideshow for your church using pictures of yourself with the vagrants in your own town. But Africa…now there’s a slideshow worth mentioning in the bulletin.

So the earnest Christian sets about raising support to travel to Togo or Kenya or Guatemala or what have you. The trip is around $2500 per person. That could go a long way to help the hungry in their hometown, but they want to experience a different culture, like that of Africa or Tijuana or Central America. They want to visit a culture that has drastically fewer possessions and heavier pigmentation than they’re used to. You couldn’t do that in your hometown. Or could you? Staying in a shelter or on the streets with the needy in your zip code would be a giant culture shock to your privileged ass. But still.

Back from the odious mission field, the earnest Christian brandishes the trip photos online and displays them to the congregation via church service slideshow. The impoverished people in the pictures appear overcome (understandably). The missions-minded gringos appear well-fed and dressed to play golf.

Now that they’re home they seem really interested in talking about the Great White Hope they presented to the unsaved savages and the schools they built out of cinderblocks. They seem so invested in your knowing what they’ve been up to it seems they’ve had nary a second for self-reflection. But who really knows.

Meanwhile the local needy, the hungry and impoverished and lonely and scarred remain just down the street from the megachurch that sponsored the pricey missions trip. Admittedly, it’s harder to drop that demographic into conversation when you’ve just spent time helping them, whereas an overseas trip is good for a Facebook photo album and the aforementioned slideshow. We can’t know for sure what their motives are, but something seems a bit off. When Jesus said to help the needy, what did he mean?