I consider myself Christian – I attend church on Sundays, have taught Sunday School and assisted with youth groups, traveled on youth mission trips. I also question many of the tenants of mainstream Christianity and try to work within my faith community for change. During my trips to the developing world, I have participated in Baptist, Methodist and Catholic church services. The hospital we serve in Haiti started as a Baptist mission outpost. I have worked alongside atheists, evangelicals and Muslims. All of this is to say that I have seen both the up and down sides of Christianity abroad.
As American Christians, we are often drawn to stories that purport to show the changes that teams of missionaries can make in impoverished nations and how the populace of the developing world welcomes these individuals with welcoming arms.
Now consider the following scenario. A devoutly Christian couple in Western Africa consider themselves very fortunate – they are healthy and have good jobs, are able to afford to send their three children to good schools and have a strong religious community. Recently they have become concerned about stories that they have heard about America – broken families resulting in children growing up in poverty, senseless gun deaths due to young men’s lack of connection to their communities, lack of medical care in sparsely populated areas. Both of the Africans are trained in medicine – a doctor and a nurse. With the financial and prayer support of their religious community, they uproot their family and move to a remote community in the western US. The family finds many of the foods and traditions of this new land to be foreign and write about them in a blog that they share with the community in Africa. Efforts are directed to building a school so that area children don’t have to travel so far for school and so that they can “save” the souls of the children by teaching them African Christianity. Future plans are to add a medical clinic to serve the needs of adults while spreading the African gospel. Youth mission teams are being formed in their home church so that youth can travel to this remote, foreign area of American to help with summer camps. All of these endeavors are meant to bring the community in America closer to the African way of life, thus solving all of their problems.
Does this story sound too familiar? It might be extreme to grab your attention, but is it so far from the truth? Following are just three examples of similar examples that I witnessed on my recent trip to Haiti.
- I was asked by a Haitian Catholic priest to vouch for his work as he was applying for a grant thru the Koch foundation. I have worked with him closely in our microfinance program and he is an extraordinary person that has been very responsible with finances. I contacted the Koch foundation and was informed that I was not able to testify to this man’s extraordinary work as I was not a person of the Catholic faith.
- The hospital in Haiti where we work is in desperate need of new operating room tables. I contacted a mission organization that acts as a clearinghouse for medical equipment. In order to be a member of their on-line community, I was asked to sign a form declaring my faith and stating that I believed that Jesus was the one true and only savior.
- One of the surgical members of our recent trip was familiar with a mission hospital in Africa that was in need of surgeons to teach local physicians. I checked out the website and found lovely pictures of the surrounding countryside, medical facilities and new solar panels. But other parts of this mission project were disturbing to me. The hospital was intentionally established in a part of the country that was “99.99% Muslim”. Christianity was taught to post-op patients and a separate building housed those Africans who had converted to Christianity and were ostracized from their Muslim families. I had the option to purchase a book that had recently been written about establishing missions to convert natives from the Islamic faith to Christianity.
Thankfully, I have witnessed far more examples of Christianity done right. Many of the American volunteers that I have worked with in Haiti are called to do good thru their Christian faith – and that is what they do when serving, regardless of the faith of those who they serve. If it were not for Baptist mission work abroad, Dr Hodges would never have traveled to Haiti after WWII and established Hospital Bon Samaritian, currently the main employer in Limbe (population 75,000) and source of clean water for the town. Fr Charles, in a remote mountain village, is working to build a hospital, has opened 6 schools and brings the outside world to illiterate citizens each Sunday.
It is complicated. I have more questions than answers after 10 years of working in Haiti. But maybe questioning is the first step in getting the answer right.