Ummm. Uh oh.
Okay, so I chose that picture for my last post because it was the most cliched missionary picture I could find. I suppose I could have picked a picture of myself with random African Orphans. I've got lots of those too.
Shoot. I even wear headbands made of local fabric.
In case you have no idea what I am talking about, White Savior Barbie has been going viral on social media. I'm not sure if she's only popular in my part of the world, or if you have seen her too.
"Just taking a selfie amidst this dire poverty and need. Feeling so blessed!"
"Although children with flies swarming their faces are relatively rare here, it's important to portray this as the norm."
"Who needs a formal education to teach in Africa? Not me! All I need is some chalk and a dose of optimism."
Thankfully, my total lack of fashion sense (and ownership of zero high heels) will never allow me to be confused with Barbie. But even as I am highly amused by the creativity of this account, it still makes me squirm.
And so it should, along with every other non-African visitor on this continent.
Am I White Savior Barbie?
Am I here just to feel good about myself?
Do I see myself as better than Tanzanian citizens, as having the answers that they don't have?
Do I pity the local people? Do I see my life as so much better than theirs?
Is living in Tanzania all about creating a unique identity for myself?
As a 7th grader growing up in west Africa, I wrote in my journal, Liberia is me. I belong here. I loved the uniqueness of my life. My heart was torn by the poverty I saw around me. And I did want to grow up and make a difference.
So perhaps there is a bit of White Savior Barbie in me after all.
Or rather, perhaps there was. After living on this continent for half of my life, my idealism has been shredded by the reality of life. I've witnessed the damage done by those who went before me. I've come face to face with the complexity of poverty. I've experienced how brokenness breeds more brokenness. I have been beaten down by my own weakness, by my inability to live for a week without electricity, my lack of endurance in the suffocating heat, my discontented heart with the roads or the water or the bugs.
I'm quite certain I don't have the answers. In fact, I'm no longer sure that I have any answers. I no longer worry about idealism clouding my thinking; instead I worry about cynicism preventing me from persevering. Am I even supposed to be here? Wouldn't it be better if I just left?
But maybe that's why I need to stay. Because I'm in that place of knowing I have nothing; I am nothing. I look up from the dust and I see that there is a specific need that Gil and I can fill, and that God has uniquely placed us to fill it at this time and in this way. So I stay. For now.
When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling....so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power. (I Corinthians 2)
So we limp on. And that would be my advice to all the other White Savior Barbies out there: Allow yourself to be broken and to be emptied. It will take a whole lot longer than weeks or months or even years. Sticking it out long term, with an attitude of humility, is how God just might be able to use you. And your pictures will never be able to tell that story.