Posted by: janpierce | September 18, 2010

Think About It

  Let’s say you and I live in a low-income neighborhood with modest homes and large families. Let’s say we have jobs but they aren’t high-paying ones. We get by, but when one of the kids gets sick, we worry about how to pay for doctor visits and medicine. Still, life is pleasant and we enjoy our traditions. We love our friends and families.

Next, let’s say that a group of people buy the lot next door, build a nifty little condo on it and begin to have lots of company. The company arrives in late-model cars, they all wear nice clothes, if a little revealing, and seem pretty happy. They sing a lot and make quite a ruckus as they come and go. They smile at us all the time and sometimes they give our kids candy or gum.

Pretty soon some of our kids and even a few of the neighbors are hanging out at the condo. The word is out that the visitors come with lots of money and sometimes there’s a free meal served or clothes or school supplies given out as gifts. Sounds pretty good, but what’s the catch?

Listen, I can hear a woman speaking.

“I’m worried about our daughter. She is listening to the things these visitors say. They feel sorry for us. They look at our clothes and our homes and they seem upset by what they see. At times it feels as though they are looking at us as animals in a zoo. What’s wrong with the way we live? Are they somehow better than us with their fancy cars and their big smiles? I’m beginning to wonder why they think we need fancy furniture in our houses and why  do we need to serve our families steak instead of stew? They know we can’t afford such luxuries. I’m starting to believe  these visitors place a heavy judgment on us and our way of life. Maybe we’d be better off to stay away from them altogether. We can never give our daughter all the things these visitors want us to have. I will tell my daughter to ignore these intruders and all of their fancy ways.”


If you’ve ever gone to a third world country and stayed in a mission compound or other outreach station, you’ll recognize the scenario above. What can we do to avoid being the arrogant outsiders who swoop in with wealth, judgment, good will, but often not a clue about the local culture and needs? I’d love to hear your comments.



  1. Wow! I love what you have written and how you express yourself. I look at the world in a very similar way. I am not sure I can say it any more elegantly than you have, but I try. I really like your thoughts about how others may perceive the generosity, good will, arrogance, and judgment of those trying to help them.

    I write about discovering one’s purpose and living a fulfilling and meaningful life. You have described a side of things I have not fully considered. So thank you! You have given me food for thought.

    I’d love for you to visit my blog and share your thoughts. Your readers may also find it thought-provoking.
    You can find it at:

    And if you would consider writing a guest blog, I’d love to post it.


    • Hi Steve,
      Thanks for the comment. I’d be happy to write a guest blog. As you probably have figured out, I’d be writing from a Christian standpoint and as a person who has been in India long enough to have seen some of the reasons our well-intended missions projects don’t work. We have another trip coming up in November. Can you advise me how and when to do a guest piece for you? Thanks, Jan

  2. I’m thinking of a thought that says charity starts at home… but with this twist… if that’s the way the missionaries live and feel in America then there’s no way they can project any different personification when they travel over seas.

    We’ve simply left some important principals and guidelines in the Word far behind and it perhaps shows up more importantly in our outreaches.

    We think of ourselves as being superior and we are going to fix this problem they have overseas, but we see our superiority in our natural resources instead of in our spiritual resources and so we go to fix their way of living rather helping them rise above their living conditions.

    While there isn’t enough money in most people’s pockets or their missionary funds to change the mode of living for all the people in these third world countries, because there isn’t the infrastructure in place to sustain them even if given a financial jolt, there is in God’s called and anointed missionaries enough salvation and inspiration to last them a lifetime.

    So instead of imposing our way of life on people who are content to live without it or have no idea about it in the first place and messing up their idea of success and contentedness, we should rather help them to have those things which they really need and spend more money in this country trying to help those who are already trapped into our unfortunately materialistic mode of thinking.

    That’s my take on it, I’m sure others have their thoughts as well.

  3. Thoughtful response. On our last trip I listened to an Indian PhD. talk about some of the same things. He doesn’t believe we should take poor children out of their homes to put them in “orphanages”, but instead should focus on community development and raise the whole community slowly. Meanwhile those who have the saving grace of Jesus to offer, should be sharing that freely. There’s no doubt that there is also unending good work to do at home.

  4. Mission compounds? I thought those things went outdated about 30 years ago! Far better to try to be living among the people – even if we live with a slightly different standard, but at least living among them.

    • Hi Mary,
      Well, yes, you’re right, but there are still lots of vestiges of the old ways. The best work is indigenous and usually aided by western money. I think my main point is that American and European Christians really want to make a difference, but so often our efforts are wasted because we don’t really understand the culture and unwittingly impose our standards on the poor. As one of our good Indian friends likes to say, “They don’t think they are poor–they think you are rich.” Even the word slum means a horrible thing to us, but to them it’s just the name of their neighborhood. So we keep doing our best and learning as we go.

  5. How beautifully you demonstrate what true mission is!

    The best model for missions remains the one that Jesus gave – He came as one who was actually (financially) POORER than those He came to save. He came as a servant – not a master.

    Greater love has no man than this – that he lay down his life for his friends. As we share our lives with others, we give them a non-renewable resource – our time on earth – that can never be repaid. Our greatest gift is to live with others and join in their day-to-day struggles. This was what Jesus did.

    God bless you for the time, effort, and resources that you share with the people of India!

    • Thanks, Vikki

      Hope to meet you soon.

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