When it comes to Christian mission in general, there’s not a ton I find hopeful. Honestly. In fact, nine times out of ten, I think ‘mission’ is a waste of money at best and silencing, exploiting, damaging and marginalizing at worst.
When we set out to become missionaries, we had a clear picture in our heads of the kind of missionaries we wanted to be. Through years of doing short-term work and seeing so many different kinds of missionaries, and through years of Biblical study and conservative (conservative meaning literate, context-and-language-and-audience-and-culture-appropriate, not assuming Scripture was written for this white American girl) Biblical exegesis, I knew the kind of missionary I wanted to be and the kind of missionary-family I wanted to help build with Stephen.
Shortly into our second move back to Thailand, it became clear that we were not able to be those missionaries. We couldn’t assimilate the way we felt convicted we should. We have zero skills that are needed, specific or could reasonably cross cultural barriers. We couldn’t legally work and live there, so we would need to live on other people’s money and just study language. This started to feel weird as it became clear that unless we both studied/were immersed in language at least 40 hours a week, it would take us years and years to even become proficient. Once proficient, we would still always be white American Christians. Translation: hundreds of thousands of other people’s dollars and still enormous cultural barriers that seep into literally everything. All that may be reasonably justified if we were going to give our entire futures and children to Thailand, but even that logic is shaky.
We just couldn’t see a point to us being there. There was no work we could do with our no-skills that justified in any way fundraising (listen, there are ten million English teachers, okay?). We don’t believe we’re saving anyone from hell, so there’s that. And, again, we have zero specific skills that translate to meeting felt and real needs (am I belaboring this point? Good.).
The money we were raising to work toward some nebulous goal would change actual lives and feed actual hungry people in the hands of someone else.
For our family, it became clear that we needed to work and advocate for change and give ourselves to the place where we were native. Where we spoke the language, knew the culture, had social competencies and capital, and could affect real change.
But, more than ever, are we passionate about mission and love the country of Thailand. More than ever I feel a fire in my bones for mission that brings what Jesus brought: freedom, healing and dignity.
And what has changed? Sure, people’s hearts may be encouraged and we all go on about how you can’t measure what happens in someone’s heart and even if you only touch one person…, but it is 2018. And, also, bullshit. We are responsible for doing better. We no longer get to play ignorant and claim intentions being enough- impact matters. It matters to the tune of 17 billion dollars.
This may sound harsh. I hope it does. It’s a harsh reality that needs a lot of judgement. The Church would do well to throw some more thought, critical thinking, discernment, prayer, whatever, into mission.
When we chose to leave Thailand this last time, I wanted more than ever to use whatever money, influence and privilege I have to help move an organization forward. I had a thought that if everyone who said they felt “called” to mission spent all the time, money and relational resources they had on behalf of an organization already doing the work, then mission would change. So that’s what I wanted to do.
When I met Heather, the first thought I had was, you have it. What we learned is that being a missionary is not for hardly anyone. There are very, very few people who can learn a language, assimilate, give themselves and their egos over to a new place, and do it all while finding real, sustaining joy (so they don’t shrivel up and die). Heather has whatever it is that it takes to do international mission in a way that doesn’t exploit, alienate, silence or dehumanize the people she claims to serve. She actually serves them.
Heather started a foundation called JoJo’s Sanctuary, and she and her team of Thai staff are working with the Thai government to create a foster care system.
Birthed out of the death of a young boy who was being taken care of by a female care-giver in an isolated area, JoJo’s works to keep families together, empower parents and care-givers to make the best choices for the ones they’re caring for and establish a system of care for vulnerable children.
Because there is no established foster system in Thailand, when a child’s parents/primary-caregivers are suddenly removed from the home (illness, accident, death, jail) or they are left or abandoned, there is no protocol of care apart from orphanages. Practically this means primary caregiver leaves home and for whatever reason never comes back, and once school is out or work is done, the child comes home to a house without the one responsible for him or her. This creates an incredible window of opportunity for all sorts of things to happen, from the innocuous to the insidious. Closing this gap is an excellent step toward protecting vulnerable kids and cutting those who wish to exploit them off before they even have the chance.
What the team at JoJo’s needs is more money. Man-power is not the issue in the slightest. They need money to do what they’re doing. Heather herself fundraises for the organization (the employees’ salaries are included in the budget she raises), her own salary, and is constantly applying for grants JoJo’s is eligible for.
Please click here to learn more, and please consider giving to this work. If you’re passionate about helping people, passionate about mission, want to do something with your money, believe things can change, hate human trafficking, want to give money but feel like everyone is a crook, want to see things actually change and get better- if you are any of those things or anything else, give. This organization, the leadership behind it, the way money is used, it’s all the real deal.
Heather spent a week with us in Minnesota shortly after we moved back, and I was telling her I was sorry we weren’t getting her more ‘big’ donors. Time and time again, she’d say how ten US dollars means lunch for the whole family and team (she herself is a foster mom in Thailand). She talks openly through her budget, sharing the internal struggle she felt with certain Visa fees because those fees are happen to equal the exact amount it takes to run a program for 40 adults and kids. While she is not Thai, her perspective on money, on using it well and how far it can actually go, is certainly not American. Her responsibility and transparency are convicting and make me uncomfortable, honestly. Uncomfortable because we did not use our money half as well- and now I know for a fact all it could have done in the right hands.
So, we’re knowing better and doing better. Or at least trying.
If there were more people who stepped off the field and gave their resources to people like Heather, I think the state of mission would be a lot more hopeful and productive. Yes, productive. Yes, actually getting things done with real, measurable results beyond encouragement and nice feelings.
The way to change this from across the ocean is similar to how we can change nearly everything: we vote. In this instance, we vote with our money, with our patronage. We say a collective, “We can do better, we know more and we can do more.”