In part 1 we looked at mission as outreach and asked if it is a way to maintain the status quo. We are exploring the movements from mission as outreach to relationships and then social justice. It is based on the work by Joerg Rieger entitled, “Theology and Mission between Neocolonialism and Colonialism”.
Mission as outreach is only the first phase of mission and therefore the temptation is there that this mode of mission can become an end in itself. Reaching out ends the continuum instead of becoming a doorway to relationships and social justice. When this happens old colonial patterns associated with paternalism and false charity will persist. This is an especially dangerous temptation for the churches who benefited from apartheid. In mission-as-outreach there is an “us” with the “answers and solutions” going to “them” who need our help.
In mission as outreach we celebrate our benevolence and sacrifice and thank God that he has worked through us. In trip reports in this kind of mission there will be photos of those who went on the outreach and whatever what was done for the recipients. The focus is on the group’s reaching out and what they have done (projects of all kinds). What is usually lacking in this mode of mission is any rhythms of relationships with the “others”. The names and stories of those who were “reached out to” is lost in the statistics and abstractions of people turned into projects. We don’t see their pictures or hear their names.
Therefore Rieger sees mission-as-relationships on the continuum as a progression. He states that, “Mission trips that focus on building relationships are much more powerful than those that see themselves simply in terms of outreach.” Because there is relationship the boundary between who is giving and who is receiving becomes a bit blurred and there is a little more mutuality. The giving and receiving ever so slowly moves in both directions.
In mission as relationship we say that all people are made equal (the profession is a beginning to a process of really committing to this). We also move beyond our feel-good mechanisms that turn people into projects and abstraction that can easily be shared in pictures or on social media. Sharing, which so easily becomes a narcissistic “look how good we are” moment.
In relationships and friendships we don’t just give blankets, build a house or dig a well and then get out of there (reach and then out, out-reach). We take time to get to know one another. I think the reason why this is so difficult for us who are materialistically rich is that our identity is deeply formed in what we can give (and therefore in what we possess). When we can’t give material things we have come at the end of our ‘selves’. So when we sit with someone in a squatter camp without the impersonal device of “giving” we are suddenly faced with our poverty of relationships.
In one of the communities where we moved into building these kinds of relationships we even had a community rule that we won’t fall into the age-old trap where the rich/white people (baas) give stuff and the poor/black people (klaas) receive. It challenged old paradigms, and still do.
In the excellent book “When helping hurts” the authors uses a simple formula that states that if you have a rich person with a pure materialistic outlook on poverty, with a God complex and you add to that the inferiority complex of the poor you walk into hurt for both parties. This is what Biko hinted at when he described the superior – inferiority complexes.
Rieger notes that with mission as relationships there, “ … seems to be a way out of mission as a one-way street, allowing for a greater mutuality between the missionaries and the missionized.” One of the ways this happens is to slow down on doing projects for others and rather on working together. What does this look like?
Instead of a group of “us” doing something for “them” we actually work together. So when we have pictures of the mission it doesn’t just have pictures of one side of the equation but include pictures of all of the people together. Also when the project is done the relationships continue.
Once again it must be noted that in Rieger’s continuum relationships is not the end but another doorway. Mission-as-relationships also has its blind-spots. Last year I posted on some of the tensions of being in relationships with friends who are not in the same socio-economic structure I find myself in. Rieger notes that,
“ …even these relationships are constantly messed up by the overarching relationships already in place, established by the structures of the market economy and of political power.”
When we think because we are drinking beer or coffee together with the poor we have reached the end of our mission we are in trouble. Rieger ends this section with a paragraph that I think is very important and crucial to unpack. I wonder what your thoughts on all of this is?
In sum, the problem with understanding mission as relationship is not that we would not mean well. Just the opposite: because we do mean so well, because we really want to see the other as equal, we often fail to give an account of the deeper inequalities and differentials in power. Unless we understand who we are and become aware of these differentials of power, we are simply not in a position to learn from the other and to share authority in any meaningful way.