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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Heard

6 Problems With Christian Missionaries

When Jehovah’s Witnesses come to my door—and prior to the pandemic, they did this at least once per week—they always start the conversation by telling me how awful the world is. They’ve got magazines and pamphlets with catastrophic events illustrated on the covers asking loaded questions like, “Why are we in such troubling times?” or “Could the end be near?”. The door-knockers lead by asking how I’m managing to cope in such troubling times, or if I’m more afraid than ever because the world is such a scary place. Fear leaves your mind susceptible to suggestion but for those of us living in the developed world, in relatively safe and comfortable surroundings with clothes and food and a roof over our heads, that fear needs to be cultivated by the porch-preachers. They peddle doom and gloom to produce fear in someone who has little need to be afraid. There’s good reason for this: if you’re afraid, they have a better chance of selling you comfort. They come to your door, fill you with dread and then offer you the solution. And for some people, it works.

In the developing world, though, there are entire communities, massive populations of people who live in fear every day. These are people who don’t need to be told to be afraid, they already are. This is a large, untapped resource, with throngs of people already in the right mindset to be looking for a solution. They have no food security, some have no homes, no work, no healthcare, no clean drinking water, no education. Each day is a struggle for survival and the travelling Jesus-peddlers know that all they have to do is show up, Bible in hand and offer these poor souls the cure in the name of Jesus. Now, they have a whole crowd of fresh new converts, new souls for the Lord, and they don’t have a care in the world what damage they may do in winning these souls. And they can do a lot of damage. Here are six ways that happens:

1. Missionaries don’t often give people what they truly need

Missionaries will arrive with crates of Bibles and building materials in a village where a school is desperately needed or infrastructure to deliver irrigation and clean drinking water. You think, hey great, these missionaries are going to build a water collection system or maybe a schoolhouse, but instead they start building a church. People struggling to find clean drinking water don’t need a church. They don’t need Bibles. They need clean drinking water and not the sort labelled Nestle in the church basement. That sort of water creates a dependence on the church rather than a self-sustaining community.

2. Mission trips often provide a way for the missionary to feel good about themselves more than it actually helps the group they’re targeting

Some mission trips can be as short as a week. If you’ve ever been to a developing country or even just travelled to a place that is completely different than where you come from, you know you can’t really come to understand it or get a real feel for it in just a week. These week-long or two-week-long mission trips are nothing but self-congratulatory poverty-tourism. You can’t get any real charity done in a week, guys. Come the fuck on.

3. The “help” they offer their subjects often comes with a caveat

That plate of food handed over by a missionary creates a dependency on the church. Subjects in target communities around the world are encouraged to join them at church for meals, sermons and more. Bibles are handed out alongside pairs of shoes and the book itself is sold to them as a solution to all of their problems. If you’re a poverty-stricken mother who struggles to feed, clothe and educate your kiddos, and it weighs heavily on your mind every moment of every day, and suddenly well-fed, well-dressed white people come along and tell you that if you embrace this silly book, all your problems will be solved, you might lean towards believing it. Especially if these privileged white people are helping in other ways and your life is improving as a result of their sudden appearance. The problem is that we can help vulnerable populations like this without building a church, without selling them some fictitious myth. We can do it without creating a dependency on the church, and we can absolutely focus more on self-sustainability. We don’t need to push Jesus on these populations to give them aid and we absolutely should not.

4. Often the groups they help are extremely vulnerable, and vulnerable people are more likely to accept new ideas especially when the ideas are offered as a way to solve all of their problems

A missionary trip, as such, is a chance to take advantage of people at their lowest, and turn them into god-fearing Christians. Its entire purpose is to recruit. The “charity” is just a way in.

5. Often the subjects experience a loss of cultural identity

When the missionaries arrive with their fancy, new gods and their scripture and their solutions, they bowl right through any existing beliefs that culture may have had. Many gods have been replaced with Jesus this way, from the African gods that were worshipped by the men and women who ended up in America during slavery, to the gods of our indigenous populations in Canada, US, Australia and more. It is, ultimately, a form of cultural erasure and in just a couple of generations, an entire culture can be lost.

6. Often mission trips are based on incredibly culturally insensitive methods

Missionaries can tend to have a complete lack of respect for the populations they’re targeting. They will ignore social norms already in place. The best example of this was John Allen Chau, who tried multiple times to bring the word of god to the remote tribe on North Sentinel Island and despite numerous warnings from the island’s inhabitants making it clear he was not welcome, he tried one last time and ended up dead at the hands of the very people he was trying to save. He had no respect for their very clear request to be left alone. No, he knew better than them. He was an enlightened man from the developed world, and they were just primitives, their souls ripe for the winning. This is, of course, an extreme example of a missionary dismissing the cultural norms of the people he’s trying to help, but it perfectly illustrates how missionaries often ignore and steamroll the already existing culture, replacing it with white, western ideologies.

Make no mistake, mission trips are not about charity. Mission trips are about recruitment, they are business trips for salesmen looking to win souls for the lord. The more souls they gather, the more successful the trip. Rarely will you find a missionary who goes to a developing country, spends enough time there to get to know the residents, offers sustainable solutions to their true problems and does so without so much as handing out one Bible or mentioning Christ, God, prayer, Heaven or Hell. These trips are for increasing the number of Christians around the world, and nothing else.

How do you feel about Christian missionaries? Let me know in the comments!

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