The Art of Mission.
My favourite Sundays as a child were when the missionaries came to share. Those church services were the only ones I really paid attention to. Their stories were so cool. Their lives seemed so adventurous. Their God seemed so real.
As a teen my love for the missions field grew exponentially. I was that girl who wanted to be a missionary in Africa. How original. I remember in high school sharing this dream with a teacher. His response was a horrendous story about a young nurse he knew who died of malaria 2 weeks after arriving in Africa. What a fun sponge he was. But yet I was determined to pursue the life of a medical missionary assuming that through this I would make a difference and save starving children. Ignorance really can be blissful …
In the Christian world the missionary is put on a pedestal. They are the Hollywood stars of the church. People idolize them. The congregation does not hesitate to give them their money, their respect and their trust. I say this because I myself was once so smitten by the missionary. They could do no wrong.
But it’s kind of like meeting a celebrity and learning that they too are real life people. They too have faults and failures. They too have opinions and perspectives that may differ from your own.
And here I am today. I guess I can call myself a missionary, as surreal as that sounds. I do however use this job title to my advantage when Dominican men are being like Dominican men. Apparently it’s not the sexiest of career choices. Then again I’ve never considered Mother Teresa to be a babe. But anyways. My past 4 months in missions has been an incredible learning experience. As in I’m learning through experience after experience after experience. Everyday I’m observing and listening and thinking and absorbing and analyzing. It’s as if my brain is stuck on a hamster wheel. The more I invest in the communities, the more my heart is stretched. Some days it’s as if I’m in a constant state of menstruation as my emotions can differ per hour. It’s a new kind of growing pains.
My current place of residency is Sosua, located on the northern coast of Dominican. It’s really a random place. There is an absurd amount of humanitarian folk in the area. The need in the Dominican attracts people from all over the world. It’s somewhat fascinating yet annoying. Though each organization shares the same general reason for existing here, their rational and execution can differ drastically. People being their own experts in their own mission govern the way in which they ‘help’ the people of the Dominican. The irony is you can have missions almost competing with one another and therefore working against the common goal. Reality TV could make a fortune filming the missions world here.
On the other extreme, men from all over the globe visit Sosua to fulfill their sexual fantasies with Dominican/Haitian sex workers. The sex tourism scene enables a lot of losers to feel powerful, valued and wealthy. These men may be unemployed, unhealthy and unmotivated in their homeland yet are given a new respect by the ladies who are in lieu of their wallet and their VISA. Perhaps I sound cenacle but the statistics from the book “What’s Love Got to Do with It?: Transnational Desires and Sex Tourism in the Dominican Republic” taught me realities that are beyond disheartening.
This is the part where I may become cenacle… What I’m finding ironic are the parallels that I’ve noticed between the missionary and the man buying in the sex tourism scene. In both these cases, people are able to leave their life regardless of who they were at home and achieve a new identity in the DR. Often they earn a type of celebrity status being known as the ‘gringo’ (white person). They both have the ability to cultivate change and potentially do more harm than good. Their accountability and decision-making are governed primarily by their own perceptions and definition of ethics. When you’re involving cultures from around the world, you’ve got a diverse spectrum of ‘right and wrong’ happening.
I’m not really sure how to conclude this, because I’m still trying to process this learning. What I will say is that people who are impacting and tinkering with the well being of other people, regardless of their intent and motivation, have an incredible responsibility. They should be held to a higher standard, as their power has the potential to harm. Just as the Bible says that pastors ought to be careful of what they preach, I believe the same goes for the missionary who strives to help. The way in which the missions field is perceived and empowered by the church is something I’m battling with. But then again there are many aspects of the church that I’m struggling with understanding. Perhaps that’s a blog post for another day…
Originally posted to The Art of Mission.