“did you see the governor of Arizona? Don’t you just love her?! I joined her facebook page.”

I’d been trying not to eavesdrop- for once. Trying not to hear the louder than necessary conversation going on behind me. I realized I didn’t want any parts of it when I heard the tall matronly blonde tut-tutting something about the Obama administration. Actually, I knew I didn’t want to hear that conversation, or any other, when I glanced at her midsentence and she whispered her next Obama related comment.

Too bad she didn’t keep whispering.

Mind and eyes wandering while I tried to blast away her voice with music on my computer, I saw her missionary t-shirt. I cringed again.

It isn’t fair. As in all generalizations, the broad brush doesn’t stroke everyone – so please know that I understand that going in. but also understand that my vision of missionaries isn’t the kind people I know and sometimes loved both in the US and far from home. mine is a first-hand cause and affect visual of what missionaries wrought in Africa over the years.

Less about any one religion (christianity and islam both stamped and sometimes maimed their way across the continent) it is about weapon versus too. And so many people chose weapon. Forced conversions outright or subtly with the bartering of “faith” for food or supplies.

Immediately my memory reaches back to post-tsunami sri lanka where my class visited a muslim community on the island of Kenya. We sat down to find out how they had fared during and after the calamity. The story we heard repeated continuously was how volunteers showed up with blankets and soap…and bibles. Even after the community expressed their religious views and preference not to be proselytized to, the bibles continued. Accepting help meant accepting bibles.

I can’t help but to think that approach did more harm than good. That it wasn’t in the spirit of any god I know.

Of course, before I can get to smug I have to remember that I am a missionary of sorts. I push an agenda. And while mine isn’t about saving spiritual lives it is about saving…more importantly, it is about saving on my terms.

Despite the trend of development workers to be more inclusive and participatory in the communities they work in, ultimately money speaks. Ultimately my (USAID, WHO, World Bank, insert NGO here) dollar will dictate what is done – or it will go someplace willing to try it my way.

Some of my ilk tries to hide behind science. Infallible indefatigable science. But science, like religion, can be tool or weapon. When, five or so years ago, a researcher in Uganda was doing harm through an unapproved study, it was in the name of science.

aid workers can argue that our way is right. It is scientific. It saves lives. And those arguments may be true, but missionaries believe no different. One believes it saves bodies and the other souls. Intent isn’t the problem – approach is. And so I have to put myself in check and recognize that many missionaries work tirelessly in clinics and shantytowns, on agriculture projects and conflict resolution. Many do work that complements mine – or makes mine possible.

An old friend recently asked me to connect him to a friend of mine who worked for seven years in Haiti. His church does work there and he wanted to know the how to do it better. More than just good intentions, they are searching for good results…just like me.

It may not be my method but it doesn’t mean it can’t be done well.

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