Build something, eat something, get a picture
My first exposure to missions work was with a very seasoned missionary. He took places and showed me things I would’ve never experienced on my own. All the while he kept using the term, “edifice complex” with a tone of disdain. I understood the words but eventually came to realize that he was referring to a missiological (the study of missions) term that identifies the western mindset of missions work as having a priority to build something.
This “edifice complex” is being lived-out just 2 hours away from us in Tijuana. Teams from America and Canada come to build things, paint things, and more importantly eat tacos (note how many mission teams photos are of the team eating). There are actually churches in Tijuana that have been painted four times in one year.
While poor people outside of our culture mention a lack of material things, they tend to describe their condition in far more psychological and social terms than in North America. When referring to their problems, poor people outside our culture typically see their main issues being shame, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, and hopelessness. North Americans, however, tend to see the poor as primarily lacking material things such as food, money, clean water, medicine, and housing. This mismatch between many outsiders’ perceptions of poverty and the perceptions of poor people themselves can have devastating consequences missions work.
When participate in missions work, or serve on a mission’s team, it awesome that we have the power to bring practical and financial resources to a situation. But we also have the power to build relationships with the people we are ministering to. Through learning, listening and discovering what they are facing we begin to meet needs that go way beyond building things. We begin to build lives.