Tuesday, 22 September 2009

on feeling guilty (1)

I mentioned here that I want to work out what to do with the guilt I feel about living and working here in Vanuatu yet having easy access to a better health system back home that my friends here can't possibly hope to share.

In the time that I have been in Vanuatu, two of my friends have had babies die in childbirth.  I went home to have Matthew.  Just this year a baby died in the village we visit for field experience from Malaria.  We not only have access to medicines to prevent malaria, but also have on hand different medicine for treatment, should the prevention step fail.

Is this fair?  

In one sense the question is a whole lot bigger than me and my guilt.  It's about wealthy nations and developing nations.  It's about rich and poor.  

For me, it's about living a genuine christian life in the midst of people who struggle to feed and cloth their children and for whom toothpaste is a luxury commodity.  How can I be "all things to all men" when as soon as things are difficult, I get out of here?

To be honest I'm still struggling to answer my questions.    These are the sorts of categories I can think of to help me as I work through them.
  • guilt on a personal level versus guilt on a corporate level
  • sins of 'omission' as well as sins of 'co-mission'
  • the continuting debt of love
  • what 'incarnational' mission is and if it is a helpful way think about or do mission.
It may take a while.  Join in with your ideas!


girlonfire said...

Hi Rachel,
Very interesting post!
I remember a few years back on a mission trip to Vanuatu, a friend had terrible pain in her stomach one night so we went to the hospital. I stayed overnight with her and I commented to one of the team leaders how the hospital was actually pretty good - we had a private room and meals. He said that it wasn't like that for everyone, it was just because we were white that we got that treatment. We felt pretty guilty about that.

I've only just recently heard about incarnational mission work - I can't remember the name of the organisation, but Christians take a "vow of poverty" and go to live in either the slums of China or poor areas of Melbourne. I think it would be extremely hard, especially with kids, to intentionally walk into that kind of suffering.

I guess the risk I see with having greater access to healthcare even while you're living there, is that it might somehow taint the gospel. Either by promoting (with your actions) a prosperity gospel message - "God looks after us this way because we are doing his work" - or by making you too different from the people there and hindering friendships.
I don't know if that would be the case in your situation.

But sometimes guilt is a good thing - it tells you there's something wrong.

Rachael said...

HI Jess,

You're right about guilt having a good place in pointing to something being wrong. Godly guilt should lead us to repentance and change. And I'd like to explore how to do that.

We had a similar experience with the Hospital when my Dad was here and had a run in with some dogs. He was treated pretty well but it was clear that not everyone was treated like that.

It problem is that it isn't so much wrong that he and your friend were given good care, the problems is 1. that others are not and 2. that the reason your friend was, was likely due to the colour of her skin. However, having said that, I suspect it also has to do with looking after visitors and guests. It's the sort of hospitality that we (Australians) don't (usually) provide.

I am worried about the sort of mixed messages we teach by our actions. It's not so much the prosperity gospel (at least that bit hasn't occurred to me yet to think about), but double-standards. What's good enough for them isn't good enough for me. We might preach contentment, but not appear to live it. We might tell them to be content with little, but not live it ourselves.

"Going home" when sick or having a baby is a perfectly normal thing to do here. Two of the women in my mentoring group have just returned from their islands with their new babies. Instead of having a baby here in a hospital, they went home to outer islands, with even less health care, to be with family to have their babies. So in that guise, what we do is perfectly normal and acceptable. It's just that we know its not the real reason.

Incarnational mission work is not just a particular organisation. It's a philosophy about how to do mission. It takes its name from the incarnation... Jesus became a man in order to save man. So the idea of incarnational mission is that we become like the people to whom we are going in order to save them. There are some obvious advantages, but I think there are some difficulties with it as a philosophy, which I'll explore later.

Rachael said...

Another thought... I have found that time with people and living beside them and doing things together can cross huge bridges.

I don't say this to justify our different standards of living. It's something I struggle with each day. Just to point out that suggest that its not the only factor in relationships.

You may have friends that are much wealthier than you. Does that make it impossible to be friends? or does it make them sinful?

Jean said...

Hi Rachael!

It's interesting, but the lady who led the seminar on burnout I wrote about yesterday - Janet Reeve - was a missionary who tried "incarnational missioning", although she didn't use the term, during her husband's and her first term as missionaries. She came back to Australia an emotional wreck, and used this as an example of burnout.

After a lot of counselling and reflection, her husband and her decided to go back, but without quite the same immersion in village culture (no flush toilet, cooking over a fire, etc.) and were able to minister to people without the same effect on her emotional well-being. So they still sacrificed much to share the gospel with people, but she was wiser about taking care of herself so they could go on doing this.

Not sure how this relates to what you're saying! But I thought it was interesting and relevant.

Yours in Christ,


Rachael said...

Hi Jean, thanks and yes it is relevant especially to my future discussion on incarnational mission. We've been spending weekends in villages this year and we always come back absolutely exhausted although convinced that if we ever want to be able to really communicate scripture well in Vanuatu some more experience of village life is necessary. I once contemplated cooking over a fire but the next weekend the bush-kitchen that went with our house blew down in a storm ... I though perhaps God was letting me know it was not the right time.