For the past few months the “white saviour complex” has been on my mind. It started back when I was labelled by Instagramers I don’t know as a “white saviour” due to my posts about Zambia. Although their harsh comments were uncomfortable and in my opinion, misguided, they did get me thinking: Do I have the white saviour complex? After a few months of mulling it over I came to the conclusion that while it is something I need to carefully monitor, no - I don’t have it. But perhaps that is not what I portray online. I love to share images of my experiences in Africa because they have touched me deeply, but I feel it necessary to make a few things clear:
Everything I say applies to me first, and I'm continually sorting through these realities. As you probably know, I am passionate and involved in foreign missions. I am not discouraging foreign-aid or bashing missionaries for a second – rather I am encouraging everyone to learn about privilege, oppression, power, and colonization because they do affect you and the people you encounter. Read books like When Helping Hurts and do research on the country you’re going to before you get on the plane. Learn the customs, norms, and values so you don’t unintentionally offend the people there. Ask questions but try to listen more.
I am no expert on this, but these are thoughts I have been wrestling with for a while and I felt it was time to write and share it. It is beautiful when people with different cultures and upbringings can unite for the purpose of the Kingdom – and that should happen – so let’s try to participate in a way that is respectful for all people involved.
ARTICLE LINK : https://afropunk.com/2018/06/white-savior-your-volunteer-trip-to-africa-was-more-beneficial-to-you-than-to-africa/
Sawubona. Is that a word you’ve heard before? It is a traditional greeting in Zulu that means “I see you.” Not hey or how’s it going, but I see you. When I first read about this it stuck out to me. This greeting is much more than acknowledging someone’s physical presence. Sawubona says I see your personality, I see your struggles, I see your dignity, I see you.
This greeting got me thinking: when was the last time I looked at someone and really saw them? When was the last time I saw past their clothing choice, gender identity, ethnic background, or economic status? When was the last time I looked at someone and saw their their passion, spunk, creativity, strength, and resilience? This Zulu greeting is much deeper than “hello”.
Sawubona sounds a lot like compassion. Compassion comes from the Latin word “compati”, which means “to suffer with”. Compassion is allowing someone else’s pain, struggles, and difficulties to touch you. Compassion, like Sawubona, says I see you. I see your pain, I see how hard things are, and I’m going to walk through this with you.
Seeing people is hard. It’s hard to look at someone and allow their hurt to affect you. When given an out, we usually take it. Any of these circumstances relatable?
1. You’re waiting for the traffic light to turn so you can cross the street when you notice a man sitting near you with a sign asking for money. He looks homeless and his clothes are torn and his figure is unbecoming. You know you have money to spare but you still turn away and pull out your phone to distract yourself until you can cross the street. While you do this, you begin to come up with a bunch of excuses to justify yourself: I don’t have time, they’re probably just lazy and that’s why they need handouts, someone else will give them a few bucks….
2. Your friend tells you about the need in your community for foster and adoptive families. You have the finances, you have the space in your house, and you love children. But welcoming someone else’s child into your home? What if it’s hard? What if they don’t like you and you’re miserable? What if their pain becomes your own? So you pull out your list of excuses: I’m not qualified for that, it would be too hard for me, what would my family think? my career is too important right now….
3. You live in a community that has a lot of immigrants. Their culture is different from your own and instead of welcoming them and trying to learn about their ways of life, you keep your distance and hope their “weird” customs don’t interfere with your life. Even though you can imagine that moving across the world and leaving family behind is difficult, you make no effort to make things easier for them as they adjust to their new home. Some excuses may be: we have completely different religions, how will we get along? I’m afraid the language barrier will be too awkward, I’ve never interacted with that culture before, what difference will I make?....
These are just 3 made up scenarios and obviously homelessness, foster care, and immigration are just a few of many opportunities to get involved with. But the point is this: if you were in these scenarios, would you take the out? Would you pull out your phone and excuses and walk away? Or would you say Sawubona, and have compassion?
Compassion isn’t something that just magically comes to us. We have to choose to show compassion. And don’t wait for compassion to feel comfortable, because you’ll be waiting forever. Truly looking at someone and walking with them through their pain is quite simply, painful. It can feel uncomfortable, awkward, and scary, but as Christians we are called to be compassionate. There are countless examples of Jesus showing compassion while he was on earth. He sat with the tax collectors, ate with the prostitutes, and advocated for the little children. He healed the sick and disabled and mingled with Samaritans (a huge no-no for a Jew at the time). If you want to know what compassion looks like in a practical sense, learn about Jesus, and you’ll see it. Jesus was so full of compassion He looked for people in pain - that’s quite the opposite of taking the out.
So how do you start having compassion? Start Sawubona-ing; start seeing people. If you’re afraid you have nothing in common just remember you’re both human, so you have more similarities than differences. You both feel joy, excitement, sadness, and fear. Connect over that. Do you have a favourite colour? They probably do too. Challenge yourself to look for people with pain (like Jesus) instead of running away from it (like we tend towards). For all you know, someone’s entire life could be changed just by you showing them compassion and saying I see you.
and there will be feelings that are hard to shape into phrases and there will be memories that are difficult and weighted, and there will always be grace pushing through you all the more...reminding you that even here there is still much more in store. – Morgan Harper Nichols
As 2018 comes to a close I am once again shocked at how fast 365 days can pass, and how much can happen in just one year. This year some of the biggest highlights included my sister getting married, my best friend getting married, my return to Zambia, starting social work, and my engagement. 2018 has been quite the wild ride; it has brought me to some of my highest mountain tops and to some of my lowest valleys.
Recently I was sharing some struggles with a friend and in their response they said, “It’s so comforting that we serve a God who specializes in messes.” And they really couldn’t have put it better. Quite honestly, a lot of 2018 felt like a mess – I felt like I was a mess. I have gone from feelings of deep love, excitement, and hope, to feelings of heavy guilt, confusion, and sadness. Through all of this if there is one thing I kept learning over and over throughout the past 365 days, it’s that life is a lot more colorful and complicated than I ever could have expected. Many times there isn’t an easy answer or quick fix. Many times your emotions are a whole lot more intricate than you thought, many times you are left with unknowns, many times your wounds take longer than you want before they heal, and all of that is OK.
As I reflect on the year behind me I cling to the fact that nothing in the past year has surprised my Father; every change of plans was held tightly in His hands. Everything that was meant to happen, happened. Everything that was meant to end, ended. Everything that was meant to begin, began.
Another lesson I learned is that big feelings aren’t bad feelings. It’s OK to be real, it’s OK to feel it all, it’s OK to take time on this journey. My Father doesn’t expect perfection from me so why should I? So yes, 2018 felt a bit messy, but still I see that every single bump in the road only brought me closer to Him and reminded me of His never-ending faithfulness. He never promised me an easy road but He did promise to walk it with me, and that is more than enough. Beyond that, 2018 also brought me some of the greatest gifts - a partner to live the rest of my life with, a growing and loving family, and new opportunities to grow and learn.
So as we enter a new year I want to remind you that your mess isn’t too messy for God. Bring every spill, crash, and mishap to Him before you try to fix it yourself, because our messiest days, months, and years, are an opportunity for Him to prove Himself strong and do what He does best.
1. The dusty and fun-filled field at Lifesong in Kitwe, Zambia