Missions in an Era of anti-U.S. Sentiments
Recently Beth and I attended a district conference here in Antigua that was very, very wonderful - except for one crowd-pleasing statement made by the speaker on the night of the missions rally. I guess there were about 500 in attendance. The speaker, himself originally from the West Indies, was talking about how the apex of Christianity has shifted from the northern hemisphere to the south. In other words - in our case - from North America to South America. Speaking in terms of world evangelization he remarked that, "apparently North Americans could not get the job done", which received thunderous "amen's" from the crowd.
Beth and I, as the only north Americans in attendance, felt like hiding under a rock...
As everyone knows, the image of the United States abroad is not what it once was. As missionaries from the U.S. Beth and I have seen, heard, and felt these kinds of negative sentiments on numerous occasions.
In Vanuatu, the present General Superintendent gave a message about Lazarus and the Rich Man, in which he compared Lazarus to Vanuatu and the rich man to the United States. You know how the story ends - Lazarus was comforted in the afterlife while the rich man went to hell! Again, my family and I were the only North Americans in attendance.
In Curacao, our language tutor (who we grew to love dearly) would often take up to half the class to complain about our country's leaders and politics. We would just politely grin and bear it. He ended up liking us, however, and would say, "but you guys are not like that"...
Oh, and here's a funny one -- one of our Spanish teachers in Costa Rica would mimic spitting the English language out of her mouth in disgust and then tell us, on the other hand "español es como música" (English is disgusting but Spanish is like music)!
Even back in Bible school days when I was part of a team that went to Trinidad, we were accused of being "CIA"!
These are just brief samples of much, much more that we and other U.S. missionaries I'm sure must have to deal with, in the different contexts to where we're place. We become an available target to unload on - the proverbial "lightning rod" so to speak. (~ And most of the folks saying these things to us are the friendly ones!) I have come to the conclusion that most of the rest of the world thinks of people from the USA as rich, arrogant, ignorant, selfish, aggressive, untrustworthy, foolish, and brutish.
This is interesting considering that so much of what the rest of the world has today originated in the USA. Computers. Cars. Flight. The light bulb. The list goes on and on. It seems as though there's a certain love-hate thing going on. Many in the rest of the world don't like us, personally, but they like what we have.
(I see the fact that so many good things have come from the USA as an evidence of the Judeo-Christian blessings we've historically enjoyed in the U.S. - which has gotten us to where we are today as the world leader, but I'll save that discussion for another place.)
Shortly after arriving here last April I was being driven around town by a pastor who began to criticize my country. (It's sometimes amazing how up-front people can be with their opinions.) He was talking about how the United States consumes far more than any other country, and about how China is much more disciplined and will soon be taking over as number one in the world. I didn't say much in response to my host. But what I would have liked to have pointed out is that North American workers are still among the hardest working in the whole world and get less vacation time than those in other Western countries, and that - btw - the USA is still way out in front of the rest of the world in terms of GDP. Furthermore, I see everybody and his or her uncle trying to get in to North America but I don't see many clamoring to get in to communist China (though I do see quite a few trying to get out)!
~ But of course Beth & I are not here to argue politics or even discuss our opinions of current events with those we're working with. Sometimes they may seem to want to provoke us but we always have to hold our peace in such situations. The reason we're here is for the Kingdom of God and not human politics.
But - since this is a blog after all, and probably the place to say such things - - here is what I would really want to say to such people: I'd want to stand right in front of them, grab them by the shoulders, look straight into their eyes and say, HOW...DO...YOU...THINK...I...GOT...HERE???
I'd then begin a lengthy lecture about the many, many churches and individuals whose hearts were pricked at some point along the way to GIVE in order to send us here. Not because they're greedy selfish north Americans but because of the opposite!
"These north Americans want to extend a hand of love and of friendship. They want to help not harm. They want to see children ministered to. They LOVE GOD and want to see people reached so that they can be saved. They are more than willing to share what resources they have in order to make this kind of contact with you and your people!"
I believe the world has the wrong perception of north Americans - - especially Christian north Americans!
I thank God that my family and I have not yet been anywhere where someone is trying to shoot us or blow us up - and my hat is off to those that are - - I don't know how well I could handle that, especially having Beth and the girls with me...
Well, the good news is that many of the people that Beth and I have had to endure the criticisms from, in these different places, eventually have become beloved friends, over time.