One of the major issues facing the global church today stems from the historical imbalance of power whereby the West dominated the rest, and the way in which this historical imbalance can easily permeate the attitudes of many involved in mission today, fueled by the continued financial dominance of Europe and particularly North America.
Global Connections has recently hosted a discussion under the title “Western Dominance in World Mission: Time for a Change?” I’ve just read through the discussion, made up of an initial paper by Eddie Arthur and responses from Kang San Tan, Peter Oyugi and Claudio Muzzi. A quote from Eddie illustrates well the incongruous nature of the problem:
During our time in Abidjan, I did a number of odd jobs, helping here and there with things that needed doing. At one point, I was asked to sit in for the Centre Services Manager, an American, who was taking a two week break. So there I was, only a few months in Africa and I stepped into a managerial role with numerous Ivorian and Burkinabe staff working under me. I didn’t bat an eyelid; I’d been asked to do something and I stepped up to the plate to take on the challenge. It was only afterwards that I realised that all of the bosses were expats and all of the staff under them were African. One of the key men who reported to me during that time was called Ambroise. During my time in Ivory Coast he became a good friend and I learned to respect his commitment and his integrity hugely. I came to realise that the whole of our operation depended on Ambroise and his knowledge of how to get things done. The idea of a new guy like me supervising an older and far wiser man like Ambroise was patently ridiculous. However, at the time, I didn’t question what happened because that was the way we did things. Missionaries were the bosses. In my own defence, if I had possessed the ability to step back and see what was really going on, I’d have been horribly upset. But I didn’t and the system swallowed me up and I became part of the problem. Read more (pdf)
To me this is a huge issue as Laura and I prepare to work in Tanzania next year. In many ways it can be easy to accept a default model of mission whereby those with financial autonomy and a longer church history by default take leadership roles regardless of skills, experience or cultural awareness. I believe that we need to be continually making a conscious effort to listen to our colleagues of all backgrounds and nationalities, humbly taking their advice and learning from them, even when it goes against our expectations, norms and preferences (and those of our supporters). Not only that, but those of us from the West need to expect to be working under national colleagues, serving them and their priorities rather than expecting them to fit in with our programmes and agendas.
If you’d like to hear the perspective of leaders from Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, Eddie’s paper and the responses from Kang San Tan, Peter Oyugi and Claudio Muzzi are a great place to start.