An open letter to a friend that works for a mission organization;
David and Family,
I had meant to get back to you several weeks ago when you expressed doubt of the method of your missionary work. I belong to a fairly new church family now in Clermont Florida called Crossings. They are a non-denominational gathering that follows the scriptures much like Crossway. We meet in the local high school auditorium, but have purchased a citrus grove on a lake and hope to build a facility in about 2-3 years. We send a mission team to Haiti 3 times a year to rebuild after the last hurricane.
I wanted to relate to you my experience with the several missionary efforts in a small Mayan village in Belize, Central America. The village is in the rain forest along a major river and has about 200 people. Some of the men come in to Punta Gorda , the nearest town of any size, to work for pay. The reason they do this is to pay for water now that the water treatment facility that the missionaries set up is operational. Before the water treatment they used springs and river water. I suppose there was some illness from drinking untreated water but the village had been there pre-Columbian. The missionaries convinced the government to lay pipes and provide clean water. Now the villagers have to pay the government for the water to their homes which are made of thatch and crude tree poles; usually without walls. These open air structures are basic cooking and sleeping shelters from the rain.
What amazed me is that the 2 Mayans that worked on the Cacao plantation I oversaw said there were 11 churches in their small village all set up by missionaries. The Mayans accepted the gifts of food and building materials along with the help constructing shelters. They attended church services and professed their faith to whichever church held service but explained to me that they would never abandon their own religious beliefs in the Earth and Man existing as an interconnected organism that worked to the benefit of both the land and the people. They farmed sustainably and did not take more than they needed from the land. In return the land gave them all they needed to prosper without a system of money exchange because they shared with the others of the village all that they gained. That is until the missionaries arrived and put in water pipes for their health. The missionaries also negotiated a deal with a mining operation to remove the back side of one of the mountains that surround the village and protect it from severe weather so that there will be a community fund for improvements and a road access that the bus can get through 2 days a week. The Mayans did not want any improvements. They were content with what God had provided them for centuries without electrical technology.
The mission influence had already had an effect on the village and the workers I knew feared that the village would not still be there in a few years because some of the younger Mayans saw what electricity could do through the solar and gas generators that the missionaries used for light when there should not be light by Earth’s rotation and mechanical harvesters of rice fields. The village was getting smaller all the time as men would take their families into white man’s towns to work for money instead of working for the village unit. Their way of life will never be the same. The missionaries all claim the change is for the better because they know Christ now. The Mayans may know Christ but there is much sadness from losing the way of life that gave them a spiritual abundance that they will never regain. They will buy meat packaged in monoculture factories now instead of having the satisfaction of harvesting what God provided for them for centuries. They always gave thanks for their food to the Earth. Now they thank the Lord but pay the rich corporations for what they can afford.
I still believe in my savior, but I wish that I could get others to return to a simpler way of life that does not waste the precious resources of the planet so that rich corporate stockholders can profit more than their share in the name of progress. Jesus did not tell us to force our values and the worship of money onto others. He wanted us to provide a free will choice that others may accept His mercy and live with the Holy Spirit in them. In a way the Mayans had already been worshipping and giving praise to the God that provided for them through the land. That the name given to their provider was not known as Jesus may or may not be important to their salvation. I have to think that God has given special waiver for those that do not call Him by Yaweh; but by another name. If they do not know the ransom paid by His only begotten Son, maybe, just maybe they did not need that ransom to be paid.
One form of evidence of progress that can be easily seen from the contact with the missions that went to that remote Mayan village is the rate of crime that soared once there was better transportation access and a system of commerce that allowed for one man to amass more riches than his neighbors. Sharing with others is now discouraged because each man must reach a threshold of money savings to be able to pay for the water that once was free to all.
I do not oppose missions to bring the word of God to the unenlightened. I do not say that missions are a bad thing. I just want to stress that the Word of God can be interpreted to allow for a culture that already has the basic message of the scripture incorporated within their daily lives without altering the economy towards Western Wal-mart values of waste and degradation of the Earth’s resources.
I still have fond memories of the family at Crossway and your own family. You were both inspiration and comfort in my life. I am sorry that I have not made the time to stay connected better with you and my friends back in Debary.
May our faith be evident to all we meet,