Magazine article International Bulletin of Mission Research

Mission as Invasion?

Magazine article International Bulletin of Mission Research

Mission as Invasion?

Article excerpt

To invade, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is "to enter in a hostile manner, or with armed force; to make an inroad or hostile incursion into." Evoking as it does the destructive chaos and terror of war, this definition can hardly be applied to the well-intended short-term foreign mission forays of an estimated 1.5 million Christians from the United States each year. Convinced that they must love not only in word but also in deed, and that followers of Jesus are indeed their brother's or sister's keeper, these men, women, and idealistic young people represent all that is best in a faith that advocates loving one's neighbor as oneself, being generous to the poor, and caring for those bereft of family. Theirs is a faith, furthermore, that insists that passivity in the face of need will not do. As the Bible puts it, "Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin" (James 4:17).

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But Karla Ann Koll in her article raises troubling questions about the gap between the worthy intentions and the sometimes detrimental outcomes of these short-term ventures, drawing an unflattering analogy to wolves coming to the aid of lambs. She alludes to the ethical ambiguities implicit in the asymmetric access to power and resources that characterizes these relationships.

And it is here that invasion's broader connotations are worth pondering. Invasion can refer to a harmful incursion, intrusion, or encroachment of any kind, from malignant cells to morally harmful ideas. Ecologically, the term refers to the introduction of nonindigenous plants or animals that in time have an adverse and even fatal effect within their new habitats. Invasion can apply to the violation of another person's territory, rights, liberties, body, or property. Each of the five human senses--sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch--and, one might add, emotion, is susceptible to invasions of various kinds. And invasion can apply to Christian missions.

Edward Cleary's observation that "grassroots Catholics [in Puerto Rico] viewed the coming of Americans as a disaster, much like the destructive hurricanes that struck the island just before the U.S. invasion" should remind us that our interventions in the life of another people, another church, another country--no matter how well intentioned--can have debilitating or even disastrous side effects. William Bivin notes that Queen Isabella's sixteenth-century encomienda system, ostensibly intended to further the spiritual education of Indians, in fact reduced them to servitude and changed their status to one of perpetual inferiority, sub-humans capable only of receiving charity, but with nothing linguistically or socially to contribute to the larger social or ecclesiastical good. …

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