Taking Mission Beyond Privilege: a book review

We live in a divided America: Republican and Democrat; haves and have-nots; Caucasians and minority communities; Christians and Muslims (or really anyone else), educated elites and the illiterate. We are divided by politics, religion, race, economics, and culture. And you don’t have to look too far for evidence of how deep the divide. We’ve witnessed the public debate over who’s lives matter whenever someone gets killed and have heard the startling statistic that three-quarters of white Americans are without any minority friends.

y648What Makes D.L. Mayfield’s memoir Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith so good is the way she opens up about the challenges of living in the divide.  Raised on a steady diet of missionary biographies and dreams of heroic self-sacrifice she began living and working with Somali-Bantu refugees with hopes of winning converts and gaining significance from her missional efforts. Instead she found her Somali friends eyed her with suspicion and treated her presence with benign neglect. Committed to friendship with her Somali friends, her attitude gradually shifts to one which is more reciprocal and mutual than that of mere missionary. Her mission field transforms as she learns to give and share the love of God with her Somali neighbors.

When Mayfield begins her mission, she is full of privileged assumptions and believed-expertise. She confronts her own privilege, her  need for recognition, and she makes the shift from expert/sage to that of listener. Here are a couple notable quotes I underlined as I read (chapter titles in parentheses, the electronic copy I read didn’t allow me to specify location) :

I am not poor. I drink lattes during droughts, eat hamburgers during famines. I profit off the world I was born into, an economic system that crushes and oppresses. The problem was that I was born at the top, and so all of those troubles at the bottom used to seem so hazy to me. This is the real problem of being rich and happy and healthy and popular: it becomes easy, oh so easy, to forget about the rest. (Wade in the Water)

The longer I knew my refugee friends, the more ignorant I became. Or at least, this is how it seemed to me. I started off so confident, so sure of my words and actions. Over time, I became immersed in their problems, falling headfirst into a crash course on how hard it is to make it on the margins of the Empire, and I ended up becoming overwhelmed, overworked, and slightly bitter. I went from feeling like an expert to a saint to finally nursing the belief that I was a complete and utter fraud and failure, and this was the best thing that ever happened to me. It’s the only way I could ever start to learn to be a listener. (Part 4, The Life-Changing Magic of Couch Sitting)

I liked Mayfield’s book a lot. In part because I could relate to it. I spent two years in ‘urban mission,’ prior to going to seminary, with organizations that required me to raise personal support. In the early days of my mission I found it easy to write ‘support letters’ telling friends back home about what good work I was doing in the inner-city. However these letters became harder to write farther into my tenure as missionary. It became harder for me to ‘pimp the poor’ and as I was confronted daily with the cycles of poverty, addiction and racial inequities, I wondered what good we were doing. Prayer became difficult for me as I watched neighbors and homeless friends gain one small victory only to hit with an insurmountable roadblock (or get sucked back into an addiction).

Mayfield names a similar sense of disillusionment as the missionary romance wears off for her, but she comes out the other end, hopeful, if chastened. Books like this are necessary because they image for us what it looks like to learn to lay down our privilege, rights, and delusions of grandeur in order to join in relationship with the other. In a divided nation like ours, this is sorely needed. I give this book five stars and recommend it to anyone, especially those of us on the privileged side of the divide.

Note: I received this book from BookLookBloggers in exchange for my honest review.

Transform Your City by Putting on Christian Conferences: a book review.

Mac Pier is the founder and CEO of the New York City Leadership Center. In that capacity he also helped found the inaugural Movement Day conference in New York City (in cooperation with Tim Keller’s Redeemer City to City and the Concerts of Prayer Greater New York). The conference was a gathering of missional leaders in New York, to cast vison and strategize together which later helped the Evangelical community have a tangible effect on the city.

In A Disruptive Gospel, Pier  shares his passion for disrupting cities and transforpier_disruptivegospel_wSpine.inddming them with the gospel of Jesus Christ. He tells the story of his ministry in New York City, the formation of the first Movement Day and how the fruit of that endeavor led to an impact on the city through service with organizations like  Cityserve New York. Pier also shares the story of Movement Day Dallas and how it led to initiatives welcoming Millennials into the church and greater racial reconciliation among the churches. After discussing these American cities he examines similar movements around the globe  (places like Manila, Mumbai, Chennai, Dubai, Singapore, Port-au-Prince, Pretoria and Kigali, London, Gothenburg and Berlin).

Several convictions guide Pier’s work and analysis. First, following Rodney Stark and Wayne Meeks, he believes cities are strategic centers for mission and the proliferation of the gospel(43-44). Second, the thinking behind the inter-church gatherings like Movement Day stem from a convictions that “the vibrancy of the gospel in any city is proportionate to the depth of relationship and visible unity between [Christian] leaders in that same city”(53). Third, Pier operates on the premise that whenever there is a new move of God, anywhere, God raises up leaders to lead that movement.

This book suffers from the range of cities which Pier  attempts to cover—thirteen  different cities. The book is only 236 pages, so Pier, by necessity,  speaks in broad generalities.  I learned about some cool gatherings around the world of missional leaders, and Pier boils each chapter to a couple of pages of “what [each] story teaches us.” But the overall effect is pretty vague. There is not much here in the way of practical strategy.

I  also have questions about Pier’s premise that mission and ministry begins with the leaders and influencers, instead of the marginalized, the little and the least. Leadership is valuable, but you can gather Christian and marketplace leaders and still fail to intersect the needs of the poor. When I read here about how New York city leaders endeavored to respond to the needs of Port-Au-Prince through organizations like World Vision (170), I think of the reality on the ground and how well meaning Americans and large organizations often fail to meet the tangible needs of Haitians. (To be fair, Haitian church leaders were also included in their vision casting, and I personally support World Vision for their thoughtful approach to mission and relief work). Pier’s approach feels too top down to me. Perhaps this is effective and they are making a real impact, but the sparse details makes me skeptical.

However, I do appreciate the focus on cities and there are initiatives, city-wide actions and missional ventures that are worth getting excited about. I just didn’t feel like I got enough of the details. I give this book two-and-a-half stars. ★★½

Note: I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for my honest review.