I’m doing WHAT with WHO?!

As I write this, I’m sitting on a plane headed to Seattle, where I’ll catch another plane to Amsterdam, where I’ll catch another plane to Rwanda, where I’ll catch one last flight which will, mercifully, bring me to my final destination. Assuming none of these planes explodes in a fireball or crashes into the sea, 25 hours from now I will plant my feet in the red dirt of Uganda for the very first time. And by feet, I mean shoes, because why would I be barefoot?

Anyway.

I will be in Uganda for a week with a teeny tiny organization you’ve probably never heard of. Just kidding. I’ll be in Uganda for a week with World Vision – one of the biggest humanitarian aid organizations on the planet. Now, I know some of you are already sitting there like, “Wait. Whaaaaaat???”, because you’re remembering the last time I went on one of these “influencer trips” with World Vision and how it didn’t really end on a high note. In fact, we had a little DTR after that trip, in which I concluded that I wasn’t a huge fan of what I’d seen and that perhaps World Vision and I weren’t right for each other. It was not a love story. We ended up parting ways on friendly-ish terms and I assumed that was the end of our relationship, forever and ever, amen.

Leaving smoke-filled California for a week in the red dirt of Africa.

Organizations like World Vision take a pretty big risk when they invite journalists, bloggers, lifestyle gurus, and Instagram models to come and see their work first hand. Granted, they don’t usually invite snarky, cynical, ex-missionaries to check out their shit, but still, it’s kinda risky. There is always the possibility that an influencer will have a negative experience in the field (like I did) and share a less than enthusiastic opinion of the organization (like I did) with their somewhat sizable audience (like I did).

I was completely honest with you guys after my first World Vision trip when one of the programs I saw in Guatemala didn’t fully align with my own values as a proponent of sensible, accountable, and meaningful humanitarian aid work. To be clear, it wasn’t all bad – I just wasn’t super on board with what I’d been asked to support, and I was quite open about that. The post I wrote about my experience made waves through the upper ranks of all the big non-profits who were doing influencer trips at the time. I know of at least one (not WV) that considered shutting down their influencer program completely, afraid that they were relinquishing too much control of the narrative (which seems so gross). But most of them just black-listed me and we all went on with our lives.

So, a few months ago, when I got an email from World Vision expressing an interest in having me take another influencer trip with them, I assumed someone was trolling me because why would they ever have me back?!It didn’t even make sense.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have big fat feelings about American non-profits setting up shop in foreign lands and the many downfalls that plague the world of humanitarian aid, especially in the Christian realm. I also have humongous feelings about relatively wealthy American suburbanites dropping themselves into the lives of impoverished brown people for a photo-op and a feel good fix of white savior snuff. And World Vision really knows me, so I cannot begin to imagine how I made it on the short list of potential participants when they put this trip on the books.

Honestly? After I got over my shock at being invited on this trip to Uganda, my initial response was no.

But then I started thinking…

…and thinking…

…and thinking…

…In fact, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, because I found certain elements of the story World Vision had invited me to come see, the story they’ve asked me to share with you over the next week, incredibly compelling. Needless to say, eventually I said yes, and here I am.

I said yes to learning about Child Protection measures.

This week, I’ll see how they’ve created and implemented an Amber Alert system for rural villages to sound the alarm when a child has been abducted to be sacrificed – and how it’s working. Through this trip, I’ll be able to introduce you to vulnerable children whose lives have already been saved by this system, which is pretty damn cool.

I said yes to supporting the education of girls.

I am so here for this. I’ll meet a community that’s making sure their girls can stay in school past the age of puberty by manufacturing and distributing sanitary pads. Now girls whose education would be ended by something as basic as getting their periods have the means to keep learning. A huge YES to this.

I said yes to being a tourist in a developing country.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again:

Going on vacation can be better for the world than going on a mission.

Hear me out! American dollars are well spent in hotels, restaurants, shops, and gas stations that provide legitimate jobs and dignified work to the very same locals we think we’re “blessing” when we go on short term mission trips. As an industry, tourism creates layers and layers of real, sustainable jobs for a country’s workforce. I believe it’s far better to leave a generous tip and a favorable commentfor the woman who cleans my hotel room each day than for me to “love on her” by showing up in her neighborhood with my selfie stick, a soccer ball, and a bag of rice once a year (#blessed, #soblessed #ilearnedmorefromthemthantheylearnedfromme ). As a tourist, I’m contributing to a healthy demand for everything from agriculture and infrastructure to simple goods and services – This means honorable jobs for hard working people who’d like very much to feed their own families at the end of the day. So, while I’ve come on this trip to work as a writer, I’m technically here as a tourist. And I’m happily helping World Vision spend a pile of money in Uganda, because I know that when I travel/vacation in emerging nations where Americans usually only go on missions, I’m engaging the people’s pride and joy without exploiting their shame. And that just feels right to me.

Last but not least, I was impressed by World Vision for inviting me back after our first date fell flat. That takes balls. Especially because they know exactly who they’re dealing with. They know I’m an observant skeptic and that I have very high expectations of those who claim to be making the world a better place. They know how I tend to look for the gaps in global aid work, and that I will not blindly applaud people or programs based on their good intentions alone. They know I’m not going to invite my readers to support a program that isn’t locally led, totally practical, and genuinely fruitful. They know all of these things about me, but they believe so fully in the work they are doing on the ground in Uganda that they bravely invited the snarky, cynical, ex-missionary to come and see it firsthand. That’s ballsy, and I like it.

Of course, I still have complicated feelings about non-profits and global humanitarian aid, and I still have every intention of sharing this experience with World Vision in Uganda with the truth I hope you’ve come to expect from me. But from what I know so far, I’m really hopeful about what’s ahead. I think this will be a remarkable week, and I’m excited to share it with you along the way.

Feel free to follow along on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (I’ll be posting most often in my Instagram stories!), and check out the hashtag #WVBloggers to see more stuff from my travel companions.

share:

22 Comments

  1. Lisa on August 12, 2018 at 4:03 pm

    Yessss!! I really love World Vision as an organization. Especially love what they are doing for girls and young women in African countries. I’ve been an active giver for many years and am eager to follow your journey. I hope it’s amazing!

  2. Sarah on August 12, 2018 at 4:28 pm

    Kudos to them for extending the invitation and to you for accepting. I’m interested to hear your thoughts!

  3. Glenn Boyes on August 12, 2018 at 4:30 pm

    I appreciate so much as to your concerns. I recently spent 3 years in Myanmar/Burma providing psychosocial support for a Child Protection team, helpimg them to find the best way to work in the IDP camps of Kachin without me being a part of the white saviour approach so often found amongst Christian NGOs.

  4. Julee Cifani on August 12, 2018 at 4:45 pm

    I’m currently reading “The Hole in Our Gospel” by Richard Stearns, president of WV, and have marked the crap out of my book with a highlighter and exclamation points everywhere.

  5. Ali Mac on August 12, 2018 at 5:16 pm

    Jamie,
    Really looking forward to your thoughts on these projects. I oversee my church’s ‘Justice ‘ area (whatever that means) and just love the way you are unashamedly smashing mindsets of how churches do missions. To be honest, at first I was like ‘man that woman is way too cynical’. But the thing is, unlike most people who just can’t deal with this church crap any more (understandably) you’ve stuck around and kept talking which I guess is the beginning of seeing change. Every time I want to run as far away from the evangelical church as possible, I look at voices like yours and remember that maybe something can change. Thanks for your perspective, it’s really helping.

    • Zeke on September 3, 2018 at 2:53 am

      Most missionaries go on missions to spread the word to those who don’t get to hear it often. It’s a shame that some are saying that they’re doing these things for photo-ops. Some don’t even take pictures of themselves. They do it for the right intentions. It’s also a shame that people like to talk down on the church, but not other groups. The church gives back, but everyone likes to act like they are filled with the worst possible people. Continually saying negative things about the church doesn’t help others look good either

  6. Denise on August 12, 2018 at 5:44 pm

    I’m excited to follow along! I’d like to find an organization to donate to monthly that I feel called to support. I trust your judgement because you have lived as a missionary and we have very similar thoughts on short term missions and these organizations!

    I’m hoping to spend 3-4 weeks in Boliva next summer with family friends. I’ll spend money, give to their church and support their work all while just visiting family friends – not as a missionary. I can’t wait to be back in my second home. It’s been 10 years. And my Spanish needs a brush up summer even though I use it at work.

  7. Mel Ho on August 12, 2018 at 5:53 pm

    Good article. These “missionary” trips have always made me nauseous. They should be seen as fundraisers because the visitors presence is in no way actual support . I am curious about who is paying for your trip? If it’s you, then I am impressed by your interest in learning more about these programs. I hope you also donate above the cost of your trip if that’s something you believe in. If the organization is paying for any part of your trip (ie with donated funds), then you are a recipient of aid.

    By the way, this is my favorite sentence of your post: “I also have humongous feelings about relatively wealthy American suburbanites dropping themselves into the lives of impoverished brown people for a photo-op and a feel good fix of white savior snuff. “

  8. Jane Koplitz on August 12, 2018 at 5:59 pm

    I will be following, but you aren’t convincing me yet. I wish you and them well, because not to is..well…that would be stupid.

  9. Stephanie on August 12, 2018 at 6:38 pm

    I’m recently divorced after 20 years in an abusive marriage and very much regret my days in ministry overseas with an evangelical denomination. I chose to give to World Vision this past year because I knew some WV workers while living overseas and I wanted to support a young girl so that she could receive an education. If you happen to run into a little girl named Immaculate, who loves to jump rope, tell her I said “Hi”. 🙂

  10. Kei Laliberte on August 12, 2018 at 6:50 pm

    I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Uganda and have a daughter that we adopted from there when she was 12. She is now 18. We’ve spent the last 5 years trying to put a severely damaged child – who not one Ugandan adult stood up for – back together, so I’m a skeptic. It’s a tough culture to change. I hope that what WV is doing is really, truly helping. It’s definitely an uphill climb.

  11. Valerie Damron on August 12, 2018 at 6:55 pm

    I love that you leaned back in.. on your terms .. you go girl and love humans with out the Jesus Agenda .. it means more ❤️

  12. Wendee Nicole on August 12, 2018 at 8:16 pm

    I work in Uganda and one of the children was at one point taken away with her mother with a strange man and I was sure the ending was not going to be good. I would love to get more information about that Amber alert system. I wonder if they can bring it where I am in I work in Uganda and one of the children was at one point taken away with her mother with a strange man and I was sure the ending was not going to be good. I would love to get more information about that Amber alert system. I wonder if they can bring it where I am in Bwindi – please let me know how I can get in touch with them if you get a chance!

  13. Bridget on August 12, 2018 at 9:46 pm

    I like balls. Show me what ya got WV.

  14. Alison Beere on August 13, 2018 at 3:31 am

    👉🏼 Absolutely 💯this:
    “engaging the people’s pride and joy without exploiting their shame”

    Please come, bring family and friends and spend your tourist $$$ to grow our human potential via supporting our economies

  15. Tricia Knutson on August 13, 2018 at 8:06 am

    I am going to count on your perspective. I trust it. 👍🏻

  16. Bill Wertz on August 13, 2018 at 8:32 am

    “And I’m happily helping World Vision spend a pile of money in Uganda, because I know that when I travel/vacation in emerging nations where Americans usually only go on missions, I’m engaging the people’s pride and joy without exploiting their shame. And that just feels right to me.”
    This just feels right to me too! So well said.

  17. Amy on August 13, 2018 at 12:27 pm

    Would love it if you engaged WV about how much their top 3 earners bring home. A couple years ago Richard Stearns was raking in $555k and the other 2 over $300k each. Over a million dollars for 3 people’s salaries at WV. I can’t think of anything that would justify those types of salaries in a nonprofit humanitarian organization helping people who average $2-3/day 🤢

  18. Aleta Shepler on August 14, 2018 at 10:21 am

    I support your critique of missions. Have you investigated the mission boards of denominations and not just mission agencies? When my spouse and I were discerning our call to missions, we found that the mission boards were more about partnerships with the indigenous church, did a better job of equipping before sending, And did a better job of holding missionaries and partners accountable. Boards aren’t perfect but have a longer history in many countries.

  19. Michael on August 22, 2018 at 10:08 am

    Refreshing honesty. Would also recommend a great book by Ronald J. Sider:
    Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity.

    Based on experience. Well researched. Good resources/ links.

    Two equally invalid extremes to avoid:
    researching without jumping (nothing gets done);
    jumping without researching (everything is done badly!).

    As with all things, discernment is key.

    Keep going…
    God Bless
    m:)

  20. eden on August 24, 2018 at 2:38 pm

    oh now i get it!! i was wondering wtf was going on with your insta posts in uganda.

  21. Brittany on August 27, 2018 at 12:07 am

    Lolololol wut. I can’t believe they invited you back. It’s so funny. But I’m excited to hear about it, it sounds like good & holy work.

Leave a Comment