Missionary Toursists



Perhaps my biggest fear within the ‘mission work field’ is a spirit of self-righteousness or arrogance.  I’m finding that it can be all too easy to lose sight of our purpose to glorify God and get caught up with good intentions of making a difference, and then find ourselves seeking our own glory instead.  We all know the warm feeling you get inside when you help someone else, and my fear is that we can begin to seek that feeling, that self-satisfaction, instead of the Kingdom of God.  At that point,  mission trips become self-glorified vacations, and we become what my aunt Vanay would call “missionary tourists.”

I’ve encountered a number of missionary tourists in my time in Kenya (though certainly not just there), and I don’t know if I can effectively communicate the frustration that rises up in me, or the terror and humility when I see it rising up in my own heart.  This attitude is one that in many ways takes the humanity away from the people we have come to love and serve. It’s almost as though the poverty, the huger, the illness, the brokenness, and even the people themselves become projects we try to fix instead of brothers and sisters and neighbors whom we have come to love as ourselves.   We don’t want to get attached; we want to go and help so we can feel good about ourselves; so we can feel like our life has meaning, that we’ve accomplished something good.  But do we go because our hearts are broken at the injustice in the world?  Because we want to fall in love with God’s people?  To have our hearts broken with and for them – to mourn and rejoice and live and love with them?  I fear sometimes that we, both here in the US and overseas, won’t dare to fall in love with the poor but prefer to only “show them love.” The people of Nairobi, of Mathare or Karamoja, of Atlanta or Denver are just like you and me – real people with real hopes and dreams, joys and triumphs, and not just pain and poverty.  As simple and as obvious a statement as that sounds, I think our actions betray us to reveal it’s a truth too often forgotten.



This week was an interesting one for me, and to be honest I’m still processing through all that happened.  I met a woman who has been living in Kenya for the last 25 years – a strong and bold woman who I think felt it her duty to protect the people of Kenya from missionary tourists like me.  In the brief time I spent with her, my thoughts and emotions seemed to be jumping all over the place – from excited to defensive, then to hurt and on to almost desperate – but there was no time and no amount of words to convince her that I was not the well-intended threat to her community that she thought me to be.   And yet, isn’t it funny how God uses things like this to reveal our hearts and then mend them?  I wonder now how many missionaries, ignorant or otherwise, that I’ve imposed the same assumptions on?  Humbling to be sure, but beyond that I felt the Lord asking me whose approval I was seeking. Was it the acceptance of even the most admirable of mentors, or the ‘well done, good and faithful servant’ of my loving Father?

Also this week, I got to talk a little bit with my housemate for next year, Elise.  We email back and forth, sometimes we get to Skype, and every week or so she’ll send me a text just to say ‘hi’ and ‘how are you doing?’  (Guys, this girl is seriously a gem.) But this week when I asked the question back the reply was heart-heavy. There has been some death and pain in our community over the last week.  And yet even in the face of suffering and abuse and oppression of some of the people closest to her, Elise’s response was not a desire to flee or return to the comforts home. No, her response was an increased desire to stay; to never forget the evil that still exists, to wade through the muck with her brothers and sisters and neighbors, and to long and pray for the redemption that only Christ can bring – both to our souls and our circumstances. Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s also a special kind of poison.  Lord, give us enough strife that we long with every ounce for your presence and your return.




As I’m preparing to leave for East Africa and sharing my plans and dreams for the next year with family, friends and sometimes even strangers, I find myself getting a variety of responses.  Some are encouraging and excited as I am.  Some think I’m absolutely crazy and what I’m doing is ‘a little too much’.  And more than I’d like to admit seem ready to bestow a cape and send me off to save the world.  Sometimes I wonder how many of our mission trips truly are for the glory of God, and how many are for the glory of man. We claim to send and go in the name of Christ, but we don’t do so in the image of Christ or with the heart or the humility of Christ. Instead we don our cape and tights and venture off to fix the world’s problems.  To invest our lives would be too personal, too close to the heart – and that might lead us to radically change our lives.  But radical is uncomfortable, so we shy away from it and label it as “extreme”  and “unnecessary.”  I’m becoming more and more convinced every day that radical, though uncomfortable and perhaps even extreme, is entirely necessary if we are going to live out the gospel and be Christ to the nations.

I pray that you’ll embark with me on this adventure, that you’ll pray and email and Facebook.  I pray that together we’ll be both bold and humble enough to fall in love with the people of East Africa, of Denver, Fort Collins, Nebraska …etc., and that together we’ll radically invest our hearts and our lives in the people and the communities God has placed us in.




(photos courtesy of the lovely and talented Hanna Guenther)



~ by eileendekker on May 14, 2014.

One Response to “Missionary Toursists”

  1. I think you are truly listening to Him – keep doing it, and thanks for sharing this! “Uncle” Chuck

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