Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Are we seeking the questions first? Mission Work and Jumping to Solutions (Part 1)

Birds for guests: the go-to gift-giving solution in Congo
I’ve been talking a lot lately about UNISA's doctorate in missiology program. The application deadline is next week, so it’s put-up or shut-up time if I’m really going to start this next year.

Updated resume?  Check.
Scanned academic records and passport? Check.
Completed research proposal outline?  Um… not exactly

As my advisor noted, I have some good ideas on topics to discuss in a dissertation; I even have some assertions to make.  I’m missing a vital element, though: the actual research question. 

My big question is way too broad:  “What are appropriate responses of Christians of a comfortable socio-economic status to the struggles of those of lower economic status?” How far shall I narrow my focus?  Perhaps “What are healthy responses of American United Methodists of dominant socio-economic status to the struggles of United Methodists in the North Katanga and Tanyanika Episcopal Area?” 

I laugh at myself that I started outlining what the content of my research would be before having a question. Typical American wanting to jump to the answers.  I’m forever catching myself doing what I lament that others do.

Middle-class Americans have a bad habit of latching onto solutions without first exploring the problem/question.  On multiple occasions Friendly Planet has had to decline offers from well-meaning friends who have come to us with their favorite solution (containers of donated items, funds for ‘appropriate technology,’ volunteer team of laborers, VBS instructors, etc.).  Like those gee-thanks gifts I used to receive from relatives each Christmas, just because an item is something someone out there could appreciate it doesn’t mean it is what the people you are offering it to really want or need.  And, just like those presents I regifted to Goodwill with the tags still on them, the amount of money well-meaning Americans spend each year on 'solutions' that aren't useful is tragic.

Together we can stop the insanity.  Let's start taking the time to truly get to know each other--our deepest longings and the complexity of our problems-- instead of wasting resources by rushing to solutions. Otherwise, our well-intended gifts will probably just lay an egg.    

For further reading on this topic, I highly recommend Sam Wells' brilliant piece on Rethinking Service (Read the entire piece; it starts slow with a powerful finish)

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