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Mission: A Dangerous Calling Part 2

11th Oct 2019

Proverbs 25:14 “Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of a gift he does not


In January a missionary, and the charity she founded in Uganda, were sued for allegedly

operating an illegal medical facility for malnourished children. The lawsuit proposed that

hundreds of children died at the facility, and that the missionary led clients to believe she

was medically trained before treating them.

It is a story that has been used by campaign groups to take a stand against what has become

known as the “white-saviour complex” and to highlight a prevailing culture of white

privilege that still lingers post-colonialism in countries receiving such aid. It is proposed that

it is this culture, and its inherent binary power-relationship, which has enabled foreigners to

get into positions where they have such unearned, unchallenged and unmonitored access to

people. Alongside the campaign group’s articles sit pictures of the missionary holding

Ugandan children and sharing stories of her personal role and impact.

So, what relevance does this story have to us? In my previous article, I defined the saviour-

complex and detailed some of the consequences of not safeguarding against it. This story is

acutely relevant for those participating in short/long-term missions, and for sending

churches and financial supporters.

If you are involved in missions how do you spot the warning signs that your approach to

mission may have gone a little off track, or at worse is causing harm? These examples have

been gathered from a range of sources, as well as personal observation and experience, and

can be applied across Christian leadership. Of course, there are exceptions to any rule so

use these examples to support an exercise of self or organisational reflection. The important

premise is that having good intentions on the mission field does not mean we are “doing


- The mission becomes interlinked with an individual’s identity, and its success or

failure with how they feel about themselves.

- When the mission is successful, it is seen as confirmation that God is favouring them

personally or endorsing their lifestyle.

- The boundaries you have with others, especially vulnerable groups, are different

than what you would exercise or be expected to exercise in your home country.

- Those leading a mission feel envious of the success of other missions or ministries.

- Longer-term, the individual becomes burnt-out but continues to take on more.

- The mission narrative revolves around producing photos and stories that emphasise

the receiver as impoverished, and the mission or individual as “the problem-solver”.

Personal or sensitive moments with the beneficiary are detailed or photographed.

- The individual is over-familiar with a country and its customs, and bases decision-

making on these views. They may also use white-privilege to avoid following local


- The mission is ad hoc and is dictated by an emotion-based response. It does not

effectively support local partners or link into longer-term projects.

- The mission involves carrying out activities that the individual would not be

qualified, able or allowed to do in their home country.

- Those involved do not see opportunities to genuinely submit to and credit local


Most of us have found ourselves at some point falling in to these traps. My final article will

explore some of the practical ways in which we can avoid them on the mission field, and

instead ensure that the focus remains on the one who is our saviour.

By Siân Davies

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