Are we really ‘doing good’ on the mission field?
In her third and final article on the white saviour complex, Siân Davies looks at safeguards mission teams can put in place.
Missed the first two articles? Read part one here and part two here.
Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves.”
In my previous two articles, I explained how dangerous it can be when those involved in mission have wrong motives. It is possible to unconsciously seek to look good and feeling good above genuinely ‘doing good’ on the field.
The rise of social media has increased the world’s exposure to mission and has influenced the ways those on the mission field undertake and describe the work.
Campaign groups have criticised the prevalence of the ‘white saviour complex’, a concept referring to when a Westerner travels to an impoverished country and overestimates, and overemphasises, their impact on the lives of others. Sadly. it is a surprisingly easy trap to fall into and hard to recognise the warning signs in our own heart or ministry; a topic covered in my last article.
The following are recommended safeguards you can use to keep your heart and motives in check.
1) Build rapport with other charities and ministries in the area and wherever possible work with them
Practise humility. If they have been there longer, respect their knowledge and experience.
Care less about who gets the credit, and care more about getting behind what God is doing.
Do not start your own ministry or charity without scrutinising your motives and reviewing the opportunity to strengthen existing initiatives.
Endeavour to understand what best practice looks like in your field, and do not settle for poor standards even if that is the status quo.
2) Evaluate your ministry, your role in it and ask the following critical questions
Does the ministry genuinely impact the lives of others?
Does it create dependency or equip and release people?
Are you striving to do yourself out of a job such as empowering a local pastor, training up the local team, and strengthening local structures?
3) Keep healthy boundaries, especially with vulnerable groups
Ask yourself what would be expected in similar circumstances in your home country.
Be especially cautious in your interaction with children. Do not assign yourselves a role in their lives that you are unable to genuinely fulfil in the long-term. Also, be careful not to undermine local caregivers when financially supporting them.
4) Value the culture, learn it and see the world through their eyes
There is a difference between Christian truth and cultural practices. In sharing the love of Christ do it with the locals and in the local way.
5) Be accountable and transparent
Involve people in what you are doing, ask for feedback, and be honest in your report back to supporters.
6) Proverbs 27:2 says: “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” Review your social media content and consider your language and narrative:
Do you use ‘I’ or ‘we’?
Are the photos of members of the international team, or of the local team given their hard work all year round?
Are you portrayed as the hero of your stories?
In trying to raise support, does your ministry promote a positive narrative, or are you using words such as ‘helpless’ to describe your beneficiaries, emphasise your impact and elicit public sympathy to raise support?
As a movement, Elim is passionate about the gospel and passionate about sharing it with others as we demonstrate Christ’s love through social action. It is critical that we do this in a way which is effective and does not give the enemy a foothold.
If you feel this is a message and practice you would like your mission team to hear before heading onto the field, Biojemmss provides training and consultancy services which can be accessed by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
Siân Davies - The Biojemmss Organisation
Siân Davies is the founder and CEO of The Biojemmss Organisation (biojemmss.com), as well as an Elim missionary. She has extensively researched the saviour complex.
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