I’m white. (In case you hadn’t noticed.) Very white. In fact, Ancestry.com has confirmed that I’m pretty much as white as you can get. Close to a 50-50 split between German and Scottish ancestry – with a little Norwegian (7%) thrown in – from what I’m assuming was a scandalous relationship between a Viking and some Scottish woman during a Viking raid about a thousand years ago.
I’m reminded of my “whiteness” almost daily. When we run in town, children and others will shout out that we are “forenj” (which means foreigner) and “china” (which also means anyone who is light skinned and not from here). In fact today on my run I decided to count the number of times that I was reminded of this: 54 times…54.
I read this weekend about a young woman from America who was living in one of our neighboring countries, Uganda. She has no formal medical training and the allegations are that she started providing medical care to children there and in the process many children were injured or died. I have no idea if these allegations have any truth to them, but if so I’m sure she did what she did with good intentions. The problem is that there has been this long history of white Americans, and Europeans, who are well-intentioned but end up doing harm and not understanding or respecting the cultures in which they visit. This recent story about the woman in Uganda and others are highlighted by an organization called ‘No White Saviors.’
My first reaction to this is “well – surely this does not apply to ME! I would never have this attitude…” Or would I? Or did I? Or do I?
When we first started doing short-term missions in Ghana more than 16 years ago we were well-intentioned. But we really hadn’t thought things through well. Things such as whether we were negatively impacting an already established health care system. Or whether the medications we were prescribing were safely packaged and labeled. Or whether there was any long-term follow-up for the patients after we left. We later found out that each time we went over I had been practicing illegally. I assumed with my “white – American – educated and trained in America” mindset that I could just enter the country, be welcomed with open arms, and then start treating patients. I was wrong.
I’ve learned a lot over the years from reading what others have written. Especially the books ‘When Helping Hurts,’ ‘Making the Blind Man Lame,’ ‘Cross-Cultural Servanthood,’ and ‘The Great Omission’. And I’ve learned much from mistakes I’ve made and from training prior to entering the mission field here in Ethiopia. But despite all of this wisdom and knowledge and experience… I still struggle.
When I find that something is happening in the operating room or the hospital is different from what I was used to in America, I sometimes feel compelled to tell everyone what they should do. When surgeries don’t start on time or it seems to take forever between one case and another I feel urged to “share” with everyone how we did it in America and then what they should do in order to “fix it”.
Greg Suratt, our pastor in Charleston at Seacoast Church, once said “I won’t ‘should’ on you if you don’t ‘should’ on me.” I love to “should” on people. Sometimes I think I might have the spiritual gift of “shoulding.” The problem is that my “should” is usually pretty stinky. My “should” is based on what I think is good or right. It often times doesn’t take into account the culture or the people that I’m living with. It disrespects the people that I’ve chosen to partner with. I’m a guest here and I have much to learn. And I’m constantly reminded of this struggle.
Please pray for me and us as we continue to learn how best to serve here. How to best partner with the amazing people and to affect the changes that God wants to happen. And as for those times that I want to rise-up and start “shoulding” on people… I’ll blame the Viking in me. All 7% of it.