Several months ago through some Facebook networks, other missionaries in Uganda found out about the When Helping Hurts training I do and asked if I would come to Kampala sometime to do the training there. I had some free time at the beginning of October so I and a couple missionaries quickly threw together a plan. For the training we met at a mission organization's guesthouse and we invited other missionaries, Ugandan partners, development workers, and local pastors. In the end we had a good sized group of nearly 30 people, a great number for discussion. I really enjoyed getting to know all of these wonderful Ugandan leaders and other expat missionaries. At the beginning I didn't know 95% of the people. One really fun surprise was that a friend, Sam, who we worked with at Pentecostal Theological College 6 years ago, showed up and he hadn't even received my invitation but was invited by someone else.
Honestly this was a really challenging training for me. I was quite scared to do it. It turned out to be a great success though. I had been intimidated going into it knowing that all of these people have worked with materially poor people more than I have, and most of the missionaries have stayed in Uganda longer than I. Some of the participants work with street children, some work in the slums of Kampala, some work with families of Ugandan prisoners, and others are leaders in denominations and churches which also, of course, reach out to the poor. I am happy to say that God used me to pass on to them information from the book, When Helping Hurts, and to facilitate discussion. All of us learned a lot from each other and from telling our stories to one another.
It was exciting seeing such a random selection of people come together throughout the week. It was good to brainstorm strategies together and network.
The week encouraged me greatly. It is always wonderful to meet such gifted, passionate, and godly people and to hear the great ways God is using them to make change in Uganda and transformation in the lives of individuals and families.
Through the experience of teaching about this topic once again, I realized how many mistakes I have made myself in helping the poor (and continue to make), how little time I really spend helping the poor, how I still look for quick fixes to problems, and how little compassion I have for materially poor people. I have repented once again, and am overjoyed afresh at how amazing God's grace is. I keep praying that God will give me a compassionate merciful heart towards his people.
One of the topics in the book is about how we as wazungu (foreigners) often have "god-complexes" acting as if we have all the answers in helping the poor, without discussing and planning with poor people themselves. Throughout the week I was humbled and challenged. It's so easy to read this book and then go out and judge other missionaries and ministries for making mistakes. But this can be another form of a god-complex. There are certain types of ministry that I have regularly criticized, only to hear amazing stories this week of lives being changed through such ministries. One of the biggest lessons I took home is that while we have to learn important principles about helping the poor, such as in the book, life is not just black and white. Helping the poor is complicated and always will be. We have to pray and trust the leading of the Holy Spirit. We have to be quick to praise and affirm other ministries, and slow to criticize. Besides, our God is powerful enough to create wonderful transformation even through messy and imperfect ministries. Our God is a God who loves to use the weak, broken, unskilled, and sinful.
Sometimes it is the bleeding heart compassionate missionary/foreigner who weeps when they see poverty who can cause the most damage in our poverty fighting efforts. Think about a Ugandan family in the village who might be a bit financially poor, but are quite happy and content generally. Then an American comes on a short term trip, visits the village, and because of the American's materialism and luxurious life back home, they see people living in a grass-thatched hut and weep and say things like, "you are so brave to live like this, I couldn't do it, we have so much compared to you, because you are so poor let us give you this, this, and this." Then, after the person goes back to the US, this family now starts feeling inferior and not so content, wondering if what they really need to be happy is all the stuff the American has. Now they begin to look for the next American who can continue to supply more of the stuff and dependency develops. So they go from contentment to feeling inferior and unhappy.
If we want to rid our country of corruption, we don't have any hope unless we begin with ourselves. Are we showing favoritism? Are we giving bribes? And how can we expect the traffic police to obey the laws about taking no bribes, when we ourselves, even as Christian drivers, do not obey the traffic and speed laws of the country? It is far easier for us to stop speeding than it is for these officers to stop taking bribes when they are paid so little and have to take care of their families, and yet we brazenly disobey the laws and then criticize the police for not obeying. Or as passengers on matatus when the taxi breaks the law by over-packing in order to fit us in the vehicle, we say nothing and even say thank you. Or when the matatu driver gives a bribe, do we call him to account? When the matatu or bus is speeding, we say nothing and look the other way because we are thankful we are getting to our destination so quickly. But then when we read the newspaper and read about a taxi accident, we are quick to criticize, "ah these drivers who speed, how terrible!" If we want to fight corruption, we must begin with ourselves, and get rid of our hypocrisy, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable it might make us.
When we discussed relationships and frustrations between missionaries and Ugandans, I was really touched by a Ugandan sister from PAG. She really listened and understood the frustrations that missionaries face from people on the street asking for money just because we are light-skinned and not because they really need money. She felt the pain we experience daily and really empathized. She apologized on behalf of Ugandans and said they should be the ones supporting us as missionaries, giving us encouragement and gratitude for the sacrifices we make. She asked that we forgive the people asking such things on the street because they don't know better. I in turn pledged to do better at forgiving such people and responding in love and compassion rather than anger. It's not bad to say "no" to such rude requests, but when I do so I need to do so in love and understanding of their situation, not in impatience and exasperation.