Mad missionaries & toxic gifts
This was first posted in November 2007, but has been updated several times.
I don’t know how many American missionaries there are, or where they all are, but there are a lot of them. I’ve previously posted a story about the Joshua Project:
Our Mission … to highlight the people groups of the world that have the least Christian presence in their midst and to encourage pioneer church-planting among every ethnic people group.
I wrote “Mad missionaries” because they do seem to suffer from a collective psychosis. They’re programmed to go and poke their interfering evangelical noses into communities that “have the least Christian presence”, regardless of the existing religious beliefs, or lack of beliefs, of the people involved. Their unshakeable belief that they’re doing God’s will is not just misguided, it’s very destructive.
Suffolk Humanist Nathan Nelson was infuriated by the activities of missionaries in Cambodia, where most people are Buddhists. The young people at the centre where he did voluntary work must have been bewildered by the books they were given by an American organisation:
The dictionary in the back of the booklet was highly amusing, however. A is for Abraham. B is for Baptism. C is for Commandment. I particularly liked H for Herod, K for King David, and S for Sin. Useful, relevant English for the modern world.
Some evangelicals in Cambodia and elsewhere behave like the do-gooders (or should that be do-Goders?) who expected the poor and destitute to sing hymns for their supper in 19th century British soup kitchens. They ask the Khmers to pray in exchange for food and healthcare – not Christian charity, just bribery.
One of the biggest of these organisations is Samaritan’s Purse. They encourage children in the affluent US and UK to fill shoe boxes with gifts for children overseas. “Oh, what a lovely idea,” think thousands of generous people as they help their children to fill boxes with gifts for Operation Christmas Child, “All those poor children will have such a lovely Christmas.” How many donors actually read what it says on the Samaritan’s Purse website? It makes it clear that the organisation’s main aim is converting people to Christianity, regardless of their culture or belief. They do this through Operation Christmas Child by distributing evangelical literature with the boxes, and by encouraging the recipients to join Bible study and other classes.
The mission of Operation Christmas Child is to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to needy children around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
If the organisation was genuinely concerned about helping people they’d offer aid without strings, rather than trying to convert the recipients. The Rev Dr Giles Fraser, priest-in-charge at St Mary’s Newington in south London and a former canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, has written about their “warped version of Christianity” in the Guardian, advising would-be donors,
… why not support Christian Aid, which works wherever the need and regardless of religion. Its current campaigns include working with HIV/Aids orphans in Kenya, recycling guns in Mozambique, and highlighting the impact of world trade rules on farmers in Ghana. Sure, we will need to have some rather grown-up conversations with our children if we are to explain some of these things. But that would be time better spent than wrapping up a shoebox. We must get over our fondness for charity and develop a thirst for justice.
If anyone reading this asks what atheists do to help other people, they do plenty; they just don’t make a song and dance about it, or try to convert anyone as a price for their help. Altruism is a natural human quality, not a religious quality.
The BHA has some suggestions for alternatives to Samaritan’s Purse – click here to find out more.
Update, 2015 – unwanted stuff:
Operation Christmas Child boxes cost money to transport and distribute, money that could be used for things that the recipients really need, like medical supplies and education materials. It’s natural to want to help people when they’ve been struck by disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes by sending gifts of all sorts, including toys and clothes, but aid agencies discourage this. Having to sort through and distribute mountains of stuff, much of which is no use to anyone, wastes time and resources. Many of the items that are needed can be bought in the destination countries, which helps their economies. The best thing to do is to sell collections of stuff here, at source, and send the money instead. Click here to read about unwanted stuff.