From time to time, when meeting with my volunteers, we write flash blogs together: 10 minutes to get down our thoughts on a common prompt. We're practicing expressing ourselves and being less scared of blogging. I'm not going to exactly write to this prompt because I'm in a little bit different place than my YAVs in "mission service"
Here's what I think: Saying "mission service" is just a softer way to say "mission." It's what church progressives say instead of "mission," when we want not to associate ourselves with colonization and the extractive, destructive, imperialist history (and present) of church mission. We say "mission service" to maybe indicate that we recognize the power dynamics and that we're here to serve, not to impose, the word mission is in there because we're from a church but it's just, like, mission-adjacent.
Is mission service really a different thing? (Not unless we make it so?)
It's more important, I think, to wrestle with what mission has meant and what we want it to mean now. "Mission" has meant force, displacement, violence, erasure, charity, assimilation, empire, going-out-to-civilize. (Has there ever been a good mission?) To me, anyway, mission means well-intentioned (mostly white) people perpetuating global colonialist power dynamics. It's always "mission to."
In the best light, I'd like to think that mission service can at least point us at shifting into a "with" framing. "Service" to say being with people, working alongside (still problematic), entering with humility.
When I was "in mission service" myself, as a YAV, I told a group of mostly-white seminarians that they were my mission field, and that I was with them to proselytize a gospel of demilitarization and open borders. They didn't appreciate being the recipients (subjects) of my "mission service." I hope that discomfort stays with all of us, and we don't practice what we don't want practiced on us.
Author, Alison Wood
queer, white, cisgender, U.S. passport-holding, Presbyterian, church-employed, challenged by faith, imagining something better.
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