Saturday, June 23, 2012

On the receiving end of missionaries

Each year more than 50,000  people from the US visit Honduras on "Mission Trips." Most often these have a humanitarian dimension - bringing health care, building homes and schools, and more. I have some questions about them but that is for another post. 

Some of these humanitarian groups have a very strong mission  dimension, bringing Christianity to Honduras (where there are already many Catholics). There are also some groups that come exclusively to, as they might say it, "to spread the Gospel" or "save souls.

This afternoon in a grocery store in Santa Rosa de Copán there were three athletic looking young men. One was obviously from the US. We talked very briefly in the checkout line. He was in town for an evangelistic rally, with other athletes, as he said. We shared where we were from.

He asked me briefly what I do and I mentioned I was a lay volunteer with the local Catholic Church and did some formation work with people in the countryside.

Then he asked me if I knew I was going to heaven. My response, I hope so.

He didn’t say much more.

I felt offended. He does not know me. He does not know the people here and I’m almost sure he doesn’t speak Spanish.

But he had the presumption to ask me a question framed in his view of salvation.

What are he and his counterparts going to say and do with the Hondurans they encounter in their crusade?

Does he know that many of these people in our diocese put us US Christians to shame with their knowledge of scripture? I’m talking of Catholics who can cite the Bible, chapter and verse!

Does he know that these poor Catholics devote hours to their faith in Sunday Celebrations of the Word, in weekly meetings of their church base communities, and often also in Thursday Holy Hours before the Eucharist?

Does he know that they will walk hours for a special Mass or celebration or for a training session to help spread the faith?

Does he know that many have a strong sense of mission, visiting and inviting their neighbors to participate in their base community meetings?

Does he know that these very poor people give time and money to their church and to their communities?

Perhaps I am responding so strongly because I just got back from two meetings with coordinators of base communities to help them improve their meetings. Padre Efraín wanted me to help them understand the methodology of the booklet on Catholic Social Teaching they are using. But I used it more to help them improve their skills with facilitating the meetings.

It was much better than I expected, partly because some have been leading these groups for years and have a sense of the importance of letting all members of the meeting have a chance to share.

Again, these campesinos gave me courage and deepened my faith – by their witness of the Reign of God.

Of course, they are not perfect. But they are really signs of God’s love .

With them I think I get glimpses of what heaven is. And so my answer to the young man should have been:

“I am blessed by God to already see signs of heaven here – especially among the poor.”


Charles said...

When I look at aggressive evangelicals like the young man, I remember anecdotal comments that young people in such churches often say they have had a personal experience with Jesus Christ because it's the only way to gain social acceptance (i.e., to get dates). In other words, to gain the things of this world, they trade genuine religious experience for a lie. That is at the very least consistent with unloving behavior by people who claim to have enjoyed the ultimate of transformative experiences.

Because I see such people as perishing, they do not offend me.

opit said...

Charles' comment is interesting in that it reflects exactly the same sort of attitude ( and judgement ) which you found offensive in the young 'Evangelical.' ( I find it pertinent that those who promote others' views above their own sense are more arrogant about them than the original proponents ! )
But Missions have always been arrogant - and co-opted. A friend who had been a photojournalist in Cuba in the 60's had me read a biography of Nelson A. Rockefeller which pointed up the Company's covert involvement in JAARS and Wycliffe Bible translators. Today one must look at the Dominionist movement to subvert churches to their agenda ( though a state church already promotes the state's agenda, hm ? )
And then there is the Gulf between students of the underlying logic of stories and those 'fundamentalists' who flog literalism and Bible-faith to death. I wonder what their appreciation of the role of the Pharisees in Jesus' death is ?