Christian Missionaries in the Developing World
Descending the Cairo Side – a novel of the traveling life
Available as an e-book on Amazon.com
I’ve been thinking a lot about missionaries and their works around the world, especially since my last trip to Peru in 2010. The recent tragedy in Afghanistan, with the deaths of ten members of a Christian medical group, have led me to ponder the issue some more. I am inclined to think that the group returning from Nooristan were not preachers; their leader had spent thirty years in-country and likely knew better than to talk religion to conservative Muslims.
But I wonder if they should have better understood the possible consequences of their mission. Bringing eye care to desperately poor peasants was a noble undertaking but deep within themselves were they secretly hoping to win a convert or two to the cult of Jesus?
1) The Grand Illusion: Catholic nun with “grateful” orphans, Kenya: photo by Ken and Peg Herring
We like to think of missionaries in Africa and other underdeveloped regions of the world as religious-based charities working in the planet’s remote corners. And some individuals are undoubtedly motivated by selflessness and a desire to improve the lot of those less fortunate than themselves.
But taken as a whole, Christian missionaries have aided and abetted the worst genocides, both physical and cultural, of modern history. Intellectually we know this and we also understand the destruction of the societies in North and South America during the Spanish, French, Portuguese, and English/American conquests. Not to mention various religious atrocities over the centuries in Africa, Oceania, and elsewhere.
Yet missionaries continue to carry out their “duties” in the modern world. Protestant sects in Central America set communities against one another with their different versions of proselytizing. Mormons consider missionary work to be a sacred endeavor, and send their youth to untold numbers of countries with their stories of golden tablets and lost tribes of Israel in America, along with other arcane and pointless beliefs. All the while sweltering in white shirts and thin black ties (or at least they used to wear such clothing; perhaps they no longer do).
My daughter, looking to pad her resume for medical school, participated in a medical mission to a Native American community in Panama, headed by a Seattle doctor who was reputed to be a very nice man.
The eye clinic in Chichica, Panama: photo by Vanessa Herring
She wisely ignored the religious aspect of the trip but was nonetheless a party to it. She did eventually get into medical school, however. Just goes to show how we all compromise from time to time.
Meanwhile, recent revelations about pedophilia in the Catholic Church have shocked the world. But not we Canadians, who have known for generations about the Native American residential schools in remote areas of the country, where Catholic priests and brothers snatched children from their families and cultures to indoctrinate them into the ways of modern white-man life, all the while using the kids as their personal sex slaves. By the hundreds and thousands.
These practices went on into the 1960s at least, and perhaps even more recently. The thought of such widespread abuse turns the stomach and causes intestinal somersaults.
We’re never going to get rid of missionaries as far as I can tell. They and their leaders are too powerful politically throughout the world. But here are a few modest suggestions for future of their work. First, they ought to lose the bibles, crucifixes, garlic wreaths, or whatever talismans they feel the need to carry. Second, once in another country they shouldn’t breathe a word about the cult with which they are associated.
And lastly, I’d advise them to get over the overwhelming sense of moral and personal superiority. Maybe toss it in one of those garbage bins the TSA so thoughtfully provides at airport security checkpoints, before they board the plane to head overseas.