Saturday, July 9, 2011

why i hate missions

a letter in the mail, penned across an ocean.  i know it is filled with words of grief.  recently, her sister lost.  but her words of loss go deeper: the leaders are fighting with the donors, and they are no more sponsoring our town. 

it was a town imbalanced from the beginning.  built up the sides of two juxtaposing hills, the potential for rifts and separation is always present.  i don't know what happened here before the british colonists, before the asbestos mine opened in 1939.  i do know that the mine owners and skilled laborers built beautiful houses on the higher of the two hills.  and i know the unskilled miners were allotted small mass-produced homes that were packed onto the side of the smaller hill.  those who lived there at the time tell me it was split black and white, with the swazis getting the short end of the stick. 

as if colonialism (further tainted by apartheid spilling across the south african border) wasn't enough, the town took another blow.  the mine closed.  initially only portions of the mine closed.  then in 2001 it completely closed (likely due to the world-wide awareness of the dangers of asbestos). workers were told they had 24 hours to leave. so jobless and homeless, they scattered.  the town was abandoned.  textbooks left in school desks, the night's assignments still on the chalkboard.  hospital wings lined with beds and posters describing treatments for tuberculosis.  houses with large pieces of furniture, dishes, anything that couldn't be carried.

for four-ish years, the town sat empty.  the surrounding villages fell into further poverty, cut-off from the only local economy.  and hiv swept through the country, reaching even these abandoned places with further destruction.

a christian missionary with a vision saw this abandoned town as a place to breathe life into a dying nation. valley of hope, he named it. he relocated several missions groups there: a home for abandoned babies. a church-building company. a school. a clinic. food donations. a continuous stream of short-term mission teams from the united states eager to renovate the abandoned houses to become foster homes.  

it was imagined as a microcosm of good.  but there was fighting. there was racism and elitism that lives in our hearts, that comes out even in the places we are supposed to be loving.  a similar split to the old mining days occured, this time with white christian missionaries in the beautiful houses on the higher of the two hills.  it took a few years, but that organization crumpled.  another one quickly took its place.  this one continued many of the programs already started, and added some of its own, including a dairy farm and bakery in hopes of creating a sustainable economy.   apparently, there is fighting again, and a withdrawal of funds that empties the economy of this mal-developed town.

which brings us to now.  to zandi.  who lived through the closing of the mine. who was employed then unemployed by the first mission organization.  then employed again by the second. who now sits in uncertainty again, yet still fiercely believes in the god in whose name all who have destroyed her town have come. 

i don't know what to pray for this town that has changed my life, to this town that angers me yet taught me hope.  i don't how to end this, so i close the same way zandi closed her letter:

I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked,
for he has appointed a time for every matter, and for every work.
-ecclesiastes 3:17

No comments:

Post a Comment