When the Very Best Missionary isn’t a Missionary at all…

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You know when you see a movie and you sort of like it, but you’re also kind of bothered by it, so you can’t stop thinking about it? Yeah. NOBLE is doing that to me.
NOBLE tells the true story of non-pofit founder, Christina Noble, and how her impoverished childhood, stolen youth, and abusive marriage eventually led her from her home country of Ireland to Viet Nam, in 1989, where she created a foundation that has since fed, clothed, educated, and protected thousands of orphans and street children. In short, it’s an inspiring story of an ordinary woman who goes on a mission to serve the poor and vulnerable.
Except she’s not a missionary.
And she’s not that ordinary.
People are always asking me for advice about how to become a missionary, and, I’ve gotta admit, it always makes me cringe a little on the inside (and probably also on the outside, because I have a cringey kind of face). It’s just that I don’t want to dash anybody’s passionate dreams of flying off to a foreign land where they’ll walk the dusty streets hand in hand with a couple of dirt-covered brown kids they plucked from a trash heap. But also? I do. I do want to dash their dreams. I want to tell them they’re delusional if they think that’s how the world works.
Yyyeeaah. No
When people ask me how to get involved in aftercare for girls who have been rescued from sex-trafficking in South East Asia, I know what they’re hoping I’ll say is that all those girls need is for someone to “show up” and “love on them”. You should see the looks of dismay and disappointment when I give them my honest opinion, which is that they should go to school and maybe study therapy and social work, and then perhaps work in those fields for awhile, and then seek an organization overseas that needs a therapist or social worker and apply for a job with them – which, ideally, would be to train and equip nationals to offer therapy and social work for victims of sex-trafficking.
If you tell me you want to end slavery, I’ll tell you to go out, into the world, and… study Economics! *womp womp* 

If you tell me you want to hold orphans in Africa, I’ll tell you to stick around and study early childhood development.

If you tell me you want to bathe street kids in Juarez, I’ll tell you I’ll be watching, and if you dare touch a single child inappropriately, I will call the cops on your perv ass so fast, you’ll be in a Mexican prison before you can say, “Our special hug was supposed to be a secret!”

Just call me Dream Crusher.
Can I be totally honest here? I don’t think the world needs anymore social justice missionaries. We’ve had our fill of well-intentioned, but ill-equipped volunteers. Over the last 20 years, our sincere and valiant efforts to love mankind have wasted enough money, disenfranchised enough people, and created enough dependency to last a lifetime. Retrospect has shown us we can do better. We don’t need anymore missionaries. We need actual teachers, and social workers, and business wo/men, and midwives, and therapists, and pastors, and farmers, and caregivers, and on and on and on… Because we have the greatest impact when we, specifically, send the right people, to do the right job, in the right place. 
I know. I know what you’re thinking. You’re like, “….but, but, but…what about all the goodstuff we’ve done? And what about Mother Theresa? And what about that Kisses from Katie chick? And what about that one time when I went to that one place and that AMAZING thing happened? What about that?!”
And I don’t want to discredit any of the extraordinary things that have happened in the name of missions these last few years, not at all, because, yes, there has been some good stuff. But most of our amazing missions anecdotes really are extraordinary success stories – as in not typical. And not advisably clone-able. Like, Katie Davis has done a beautiful, extraordinary thing, and I honestly believe God has used her in amazing ways – but that’s not a good reason for every 20 year old white girl with a “heart for missions” to hop on the next flight to Zimbabwe or whatever.
Initially, as I watched Cristina Noble’s story unfold on the screen, I was irritated by that very notion. Great. Another nice little Faith story about a white chick who “feels called” to “love on” third world rug-rats, so she shows up in their country, completely unannounced and totally unprepared, and then TA-DA! She saves all the children.
But Cristina’s faith doesn’t come across as all that nice. In the film it comes off as pleading, faltering, demanding, confused, and even a little bit scheming – kind of like my own. And her “call” is never really defined. She saw images of the war on the news. She had a dream. Then, years later, after her kids were grown and gone, she got on a plane. Do I think that’s kinda weird? Yeah. But at least she let it stew for a couple of decades before she flew away. (And, yes, we could talk for days about white savior complex – but remember this was back in1989, way before posting mission trip selfies on Facebook was a competitive sport.) What I loved, though, is that Christina Noble’s capacity to help the street-children of Viet Nam wasn’t born simply out of wild passion or good intention, it developed in her over a lifetime. She drew from her personal experience in poverty, her time of homelessness, her distrust of God and the Church, and all the lessons of Motherhood. She was uniquely prepared and extraordinarily equipped for the task at hand. And, y’know, I don’t know anything… but, maybethat’s why she’s been so successful in her efforts.

NOBLEis not the story of a missionary. It’s the story of a woman who was the right person, doing the right job, in the right place. And the God who never forsakes us…

NOBLE will be in theaters, Friday, May 8th – Go see it so you can come back here and we can talk about it! Tell me all your thoughts…

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  1. Aisha Entz on June 12, 2018 at 9:08 am


    I have a friend who after she got her masters in marriage and family counselling went to work as an art therapist in the Phillippines with kids off the street who have most likely been involved in the sex trade. Good work, but not typical work. But love that she is trained as a therapist and does excellent work with broken children.

    Thanks for this! Aisha

  2. Brianna Van Schaick on September 3, 2018 at 5:01 pm

    I definitely agree that the world needs more social justice missionaries. In fact, I think missions organizations as a whole would be in agreement with you. The Lausanne Covenant focussed on the social responsibility of Christians as a whole in section five stating, “We affirm that God is both the Creator and the judge of all men. We therefore should share his concern for justice and reconciliation throughout human society and for the liberation of all men and women from every kind of oppression…” (laussane.org). The questions is are we participating in the Great Commission if we focus on social justice alone? I think you hinted at this in your recent discussion with Pete Enns. Missions cannot be anything and everything we decide it is.

    There is also a tension between two schools of thought in missions- those who follow the “Pauline model” for missions (representational model) and those who follow the “Jesus model”. The Pauline model focuses on evangelism and church planting and is traditionally what one believes to be “missions”. The Jesus model (also known as the incarnational model), however, uses Jesus’ ministry as a model and focuses on being Jesus to others by means of serving the poor, healing the sick, seeking justice, etc. You may be encouraged to know that there are many missions organizations and missionaries that lean towards the Jesus model for missions. 🙂

    Blessings, Brianna

  3. Brandon on June 27, 2021 at 2:34 am

    Honestly, I’m still stuck in the tension of figuring out “missions” (aka life overseas as a Christian, but on somebody else’s dime). I don’t know how many times during the pre-launch phase I told people, “I know I feel called, but I don’t feel adequate or even gifted/trained for the task, and don’t have a clear sense of exactly what we’re supposed to do when we get there…” Maybe they took it as false modesty, but they usually just said things like, “those are exactly the kinds of people God needs/uses…” I know we DO have some gifts and abilities, and we will find our niche here, but I feel the whole process could’ve been streamlined – training and checking beforehand, plus research and planning to match us to appropriate work. Rather, it seems we were launched in the “show up and see what God does” school of thought. I’m sure these words will go into the void, and they’re more for me than anyone else anyway. But thank you, Jamie, for prompting me to process these struggles more clearly (and honestly/boldly).

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