In my previous post, I wrote about the danger of the single story through the words of Chimamanda Adichie, a Nigerian author. Adichie says, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” I will continue my exploration this theme, focusing on the role of the single story in mission. If you have not seen the video from my previous post, I encourage you to watch it.
I also see it beneficial to use the terms majority world and minority world. The majority world is just that—the majority of peoples on this earth are in what has also been called the third world, developing world, or global south. I use “majority” because not only do the represent the majority of humankind, but the majority of Christians, too.
The narrative from the minority world, of North American and European superiority and African (or aboriginal) helplessness, is part of history and still exists. It is a tough subject to speak about because it is sometimes perpetuated through well-meaning campaigns and people with good intentions. Unfortunately good intentions do not mean they are always right. Some so-called good intentions have resulted in disempowerment, colonization, genocide, and abuse (for one example, read about the history of Indian Residential Schools in Canada, and remember, the US did the same, all in the name of “helping” and spreading Christian values). And most recently, voices of young white men from the US have been given more power and deference than voices of Ugandan people, in a misguided campaign to “raise awareness” aimed at Uganda (though it was not of Christian mission, it is part of the narrative. Learn more here and here).
Because Christianity carried the theological banner of God-is-on-my-side with good (and sometimes not so good) intentions, they spread to the majority world, and with them the Gospel and cultural superiority. Here, I’m not debating the merits of spreading Gospel, nor am I saying all were bad people. Nevertheless, objects of Western Christian missionaries were seen as heathen and unsophisticated, and that story told and re-told to a wide audience in the minority world. This, I believe, is the single story that needs to be broken in order for reconciliation to rise. Those to whom missionaries went were not, and are not, objects—they are people, with their own complex and vibrant cultures, systems of belief, hopes, and ideas for the future.
These are strong words that some may have not heard before, and others might want to critique; but I believe it is a necessary story to tell, though I acknowledge my own limited perspective is not the whole of the matter. There are many good things being done all over the world by many people, but I have to stress that they don’t entirely depend upon the minority world, your pity, or the number of views certain videos receive.
In spite of injustices past and present, there are more than 2 billion Christians all over the world, living out their lives of faith. What I mean when I talk about mission today can be summed up in the description of accompaniment from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA):
Walking together in solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality. In this walk, gifts, resources and experiences are shared with mutual advice and admonition to deepen and expand our work within God’s mission. Accompaniment is both a lens for seeing the world and a way to engage one another in global mission. Through the lens of accompaniment, we see that relationships are at the core of global mission.
The ELCA has a more in-depth description of accompaniment on their website, as well as a look at the changing context of mission, which highlights what mission was in the early 20th century, and what it embodies now (from a Lutheran perspective). I encourage you to visit those links, as I am relating my perspective.
When the peoples of the world, whom God loves unconditionally, are stripped of their voices and usurped of their power, the danger of a single story arises and injustice is perpetuated. However, through faith and relationship based on interdependence, God’s work of reconciliation can happen, thus reframing the narrative: no longer is it our (mine vs. yours) story—it is God’s story, and God’s story abounds in grace, encompassing everyone.
So, what does that look like? Stay tuned, I hope to write more on moving toward accompaniment in mission.