Recently Jamie the Very Worst Missionary traveled with World Vision to Guatemala to observe their work and write about it on her blog. It was a free trip I do believe. If you’re not familiar, Jamie is a former missionary to Costa Rica who has built a very successful blog through wit, snark and engagement of issues surrounding American Christianity.
Her write up about her experience with WV in Guatemala was less than stellar. She wasn’t crazy about the music center they were building because it wasn’t directly fighting poverty in the same vein as handing out rice or teaching women to breastfeed, for example. She also had some issues with the translator, who was making slight changes to improve the stories and make them more complementary of World Vision. She speaks Spanish so she caught on. The gist of the post was that she likes WV, but she’s not in love with them. She hashtagged it #friendzone.
Now, Jamie recently returned from another trip to Southeast Asia to learn about the sex trafficking situation in Thailand and Cambodia. (You may recall fighting child sex trafficking is my passion in life.) When she returned, she raved about The Exodus Road, an NGO that fights sex trafficking in Thailand, and specifically Delta Team, a small group of men that goes undercover in brothels to gain evidence to convince the police to conduct a raid. When she was super stoked about this, I wasn’t surprised. It’s all amazing. She organized a funding group and private Facebook page for people who signed up as monthly donors. She was mega impressed by their work and had not a bit of her usual snark to offer us concerning them.
Well of course she was impressed! They’re awesome! They’re doing wonderful work that just happens to appeal to American Christians’ penchant for being entertained and excited. Of course people lined up to give money. Who doesn’t want to feel like they’re part of a super stealth team of Christian badasses?!?
But here’s the thing. Guatemala isn’t nearly as exotic as Southeast Asia. Everyone speaks Spanish and you can fly there in like 3 hours. Everybody eats corn tortillas and beans. It’s not nearly as sexy as Thailand where there’s palm trees and pineapples and floating markets and transvestite prostitutes. In Guatemala they’re building a music center to give kids a sense of culture in the midst of grinding poverty. In Thailand they’re doing undercover work in brothels and taking video with iPhones and busting out brothel raids left and right. Brothel raids are sexy! They’re something Americans want to watch movies about (remember ‘Taken’?). Americans love spy novels and James Bond and exotic locales. Imagine if Christian humanitarian work got crossed with a James Bond flick… It did, and it’s called Delta Team.
If you know me at all, you know that I’m passionate about ending sex trafficking, especially of children. So Delta Team is right up my alley and I fully support them. In no way do I want to detract from their work. BUT, it bugs me that Jamie’s not so gung ho about organizations doing less glamorous work. She visited AIM in Cambodia but didn’t write much about them. They run a safe home for girls rescued in brothel raids and a school that helps girls avoid the brothel altogether. So they take care of a bunch of deeply traumatized teen girls who are dealing with all the normal teenage girl stuff plus a history of violent rape and abuse. Sounds like a breeze, right?
It’s hard work, work that takes years to come to fruition and sometimes doesn’t bear fruit at all. Some rescued girls never get over their past and end up back in the brothel. Yes, some of us need to support the brothel raid, but let’s not forget the work that comes after. Redemption is heavy stuff. Are we willing to pay the price, the literal $25/month automatic draft, for someone else’s redemption? Or do we just like the exciting brothel raid anecdote that really isn’t a happy ending at all, but rather a messy beginning to a new life?
In the same way, child sponsorship isn’t sexy. There are no hidden cameras or undercover agents. Just aid workers handing out rice and teaching people better ways to farm. A lot of it is pretty old school, you know, making sure people get at least one decent meal a day and don’t die of diarrhea. World Vision is the largest Christian humanitarian organization in the world, working in more countries than any other group (except maybe the Catholic Church) and they’ve been innovators in the struggle against poverty since the 1950’s. They prevent trafficking and abuse of children by strengthening families. So yes, we need brothel raids. But we also need to prevent kids from being exploited as a direct result of their impoverishment. Please, give to Delta Team. But please sponsor a child too.
So Jamie the Very Snarkiest Missionary, I’m really not hatin’ on you. I like your blog. But it saddens me that maybe a kid won’t get sponsored because of your post. Maybe World Vision isn’t your jam, but do you have to write something that may actually deter people from sponsoring? I know you’ve built your blogging empire on honesty. People read your stuff because you’re funny and you tell the truth. But if you already know that you love Delta Team and that’s where you want to put your energy, why accept a free trip from an organization that is obviously hoping you’ll promote them on your blog? Maybe next time, just say no thanks. That way they’re not paying you to give them bad press. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m Southern, but it just seems like the polite thing to do.