Monday, January 21, 2013

The danger of having parents

Orson Scott Card's book, Ender's Game, tells the story of Ender Wiggin: a child prodigy who is being groomed to lead an army. The book has some interesting things to say about the development of leaders and how to create resilient people (but that is a topic for another post).  At one point two teachers are discussing young Ender; how best to train him and whether it is okay to come to his rescue.

"He can never believe that anybody will ever help him out, ever. If he once thinks there is an easy way out, he's wrecked."

"You're right.  That would be terrible if he believed he had a friend."

"He can have friends.  Its parents he can't have."  

One of the challenges involved in cross-cultural missions is the danger of paternalism.  This happens when leadership and direction stays in the hands of missionaries or someone outside the local church context.  Instead of an outsider acting like a parent, the goal (that was articulated to me as a student) was for the new churches to be self-propagating, self-supporting, self-governing and self-theologizing.  While this was an easy concept to grasp in the classroom, it has been much harder to implement in the field.  The reasons for this are varied, but I wonder if it is mostly due to the cultural make-up of the Makua people.

A few years ago, one of our missionary colleagues, John Isiminger, interviewed a number of Mozambicans trying to get at the heart of the Makua-Metto culture by naming and describing its' key values.  The results... (drum-roll please...): the top value was 'dependency' and the runner-up was 'conformity'.

To American ears this is incredible - we value the exact opposite!  The Makua people we work among are not part of a warrior tribe like the Massai or the Makonde.  They are not dedicated to their religion like the Mwani or the Yão.  Instead, they value dependency and conformity!  And the embodiment of that value of dependency is the patrão or patron: An enviable Makua-Metto person is somebody who has a patron - one that they can 'depend' on to bail them out when life gets rough.   

Last week, after our meeting, the guys from the churches in the Chipembe area lamented the fact that few church leaders (besides myself) from the town of Montepuez come and visit them.  They  wondered what will happen when Rachel and I leave Mozambique - who will they look to for advice, help, counsel and instruction?  I responded by telling them that that is the reason that I continue to visit them -  teaching and equipping them now - so that they will grow in their abilities and be able to 'do it' on their own and that they won't have to look to the city for leadership/salvation.  I am trying to get them to see God as their patron.  I am trying to get them to lean on each other as friends when they need help.

Then, I brought up the example of Cahora Bassa - the huge hydro-electric dam that powers all of Mozambique.  We talked about how Cahora Bassa is not located in Mozambique's capital city.  It is not even  in the capital of its' own province. It is out in the 'bush' and yet it provides power to light up the whole country.

My dream is that these believers and their children will not look for a patron, or a parent, from the 'city' to lead them, but that they will take the lead in reaching their communities and partner with friends to be a light from the 'bush' will reach all the way into the cities as well.

The danger of having parents, the danger of paternalism, is in looking to others to provide the power that has already been given to us by God - the power to love, serve and bring light to the world.

Grace and Peace,


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