Do you feel as if there are times where you are being bashed back and forth between cynicism and hope? Or maybe it is even worse than that? Maybe you are solidly stuck in the sticky mud of cynicism?
I often feel this way. There are so many stressful, painful, and harmful things that try to kill our joy and hope in life. We begin to absorb this trauma and pain into our very bodies and then can have trouble coming back up for a glorious breathe of hope.
Being involved in this type of international ministry, I’m often very close to the the pain and anguish of others. Often the brothers and sisters we serve in East Africa face food shortages, failing health due to HIV/AIDS, corrupt local and national governments, and grinding poverty. Of course we get to see lives liberated from hopelessness, sin, depression, injustice, and disease – but there is still a residual trauma that can weigh on those of us working to help out in some small way. The trauma gathers and sticks – unless we find a way to discover healing for both body and soul. That trauma and sorrow can easily morph into cynicism. Everything seems pointless and broken.
Recently I read (actually listened to) a new book by Jamie Wright. She’s better known as “The Very Worst Missionary” after she began a blog with that title and eventually turned it into a book. If cussing is unfamiliar or even offensive to you – just be cautious when poking around and learning more about Jamie. She uses one of the most crass writing styles I’ve read in a long time. In fact – sometimes the language just feels gratuitous and designed to be inflammatory. You’ve been warned.
Jamie went to Costa Rica as a missionary with her husband and kids and encountered pretty much all of the disheartening and dysfunctional parts of the modern Protestant missions world. Lazy and ill-equipped missionaries, colonial attitudes, poorly planned and run short-term trips, and the wacky world of raising financial support and maintaining that support through updates from the field. She points out that often missionaries are unprepared and unqualified – but the message that is shared and promoted is “just show up and God will do the rest”.
I’m a third generation missionary and what Jamie writes holds true. There is tremendous dysfunction in modern Western missions. I could easily double the length of Jamie’s list of concerns. Spiritual, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Embezzlement. Brutal gossip and ministry disputes. Justifying and protecting sinful leadership because “we don’t want to harm God’s work.” Racism. Deceit. It just goes on and on. Our family’s three generations of ministry have observed and been victims of lots of dysfunction. And even though we’ve worked hard to walk on the straight and narrow path – I’m sure we’ve been part of the problem as well.
So what to do?
Jamie is an individual who had some really hard experiences and saw some really messed up situations. As I listened to her story I began to identify with a lot of what Jamie has gone through. I want her to keep finding peace and healing after the rough past several years of ministry. I hope she keeps speaking up and telling the truth. We need people like Jamie.
But as I listened I was also struck by the level of cynicism that permeated the book.
I too have see the disgusting underbelly of the beast of missions. I too felt cynical at times. I’ve wanted to shut down the whole movement. I’ve been in church and ministry groups where I’ve wanted to scream because of the lack of integrity, honesty, and common sense exuding from the room. I’ve seen that at many times our modern church and missionary movements end up causing hurt while trying to help.
So what to do? Is there anything worth salvaging?
I want to keep swimming toward hope. I don’t want to be a person marked by cynicism. I want to be marked by hope. I want this hope to be a wide-eyed and informed hope. And I want Jamie’s concerns to be pondered and for new strategies to be implemented. But I want it to be marked by hope. And good data.
Whoever and wherever we are in life – we are caught somewhere between cynicism and hope. Life carries trauma and shame and sin and sadness. It can come from a toxic political environment, a miscarriage, a painful marriage, disease, a church split, an addiction, or unfulfilled dreams. These events and memories can cling to us and begin to drown us in cynicism. We may feel there is no hope and no way out.
I pray today that you experience lavish and refreshing hope that loosens that cold grip of cynicism. I pray that you begin to be healed of the trauma. I pray that God gives you incredible ideas to help you make a beautiful and good contribution to this world. I pray that you listen to the concerns of people like Jamie – and start to correct the dysfunction that exists all around us.
I pray that as you live in a world caught between cynicism and hope – that hope becomes your light. Hope that comes from the Creator who is the source of all love and joy.
As I’ve had the privilege of getting to know so many amazing and courageous local ministry leaders in East Africa – I’ve had my eyes opened to the power of hope and to the toxicity of cynicism. And there were many times during the past fifteen years where I’ve encountered brothers and sisters who really shouldn’t contain an ounce of hope left in their bodies. A young boy abandoned due to his status of being HIV positive. A girl with albinism worrying about being murdered for her skin color. Women who were widowed and are working long hours trying to provide the most basic calories for their kids.
In each of these situations, cynicism should have won the day. But it didn’t. Hope stood tall in the dusty tin shacks and proclaimed life and joy and goodness. It was a strong and infectious hope. A hope rooted in Christ and in a conviction of an active God working all things together for good. A conviction that even if things are rough in this life – justice will be done and those who suffer will be rewarded. A hope that is able to produce a smile and a heart of gratitude – even while laying on a deathbed. It is in these moments that my cynicism seems to shrink and shrivel and be drowned out.
Hope conquers cynicism. And that is truly glorious.