The following post from Anabaptist Witness Co-Editor Jamie Ross is part of an ongoing series of “roundtable posts” published in The Mennonite reflecting on the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective. Ross’s contribution is one in a series of reflections on Article 10: The Church in Mission. Other contributors include Glenn Balzer, Neal Blough, and Stefanus Handoyo. The full series can be found here.
Several white women serving in Uganda released a spoof earlier this month of Justin Timberlake’s song, “SexyBack.” Dressed in traditional Ugandan clothing, they shimmy and shake while singing: “I’m bringing missions back … I’m out to serve God, it’s my pact.” They continue, “You best deworm or get your money back, put up your net, mosquitos will attack, bring in your laundry on your back.”
The lyrics trivialize the hardships many Ugandan women face. The gestures of the women are exaggerated and demeaning. Of the few individuals from Uganda included in the video, only the goat is given a voice.
While the video has been taken down and an apology issued by the sponsoring agency, Luket Ministries, the lack of sensitivity portrayed here has sparked outrage across social media. Rightly, Ugandans and others are calling for an end to the white savior complex and “voluntourism,” a practice and industry that combines volunteering with tourism.
Examples such as this should make us uncomfortable and even angry. Moments like this should cause us to reflect on our own history of colonialist mindsets and practices. But should stories like this cause us to disengage from cross-cultural mission entirely?
Article 10 reminds us that the church is called to witness to the reign of Christ “to people of every culture, ethnicity, or nationality.” And for the sake of “reconciling differing groups, creating one new humanity.” This call to witness works in multiple directions. One aspect of witnessing is the act of seeing the other. But being a witness also provides something for the other to see. To witness is to be in relationship. And relationships of trust, relationships that honor and respect the other, take many years to develop.
These relationships are fostered by individuals humbly investing their lives and making their homes in cultures other than their own. These relationships are nurtured when we allow others to come to us, receiving them with hospitality, knowing that we too are in need of good news. Relationships are also fostered over the years by congregations, networks, and agencies investing decades in communities, so that when one person serves for a short time, they carry institutional relationships and knowledge. These relationships have faces. These individuals have voices. And these relationships allow for healing. When this occurs, we are allowed a “preview of that day when all the nations shall stream to the mountain of the Lord and be at peace.”
Jamie Ross is Co-Editor of Anabaptist Witness and Editor for International Ministries at Mennonite Mission Network. She serves on the Board of Publications for the American Society of Missiology, and chairs the Interchurch Reference Group for Mennonite Church USA. Ross has served in Kyrgyzstan and Israel.