28 October 2013

what would you say you do here?

For those keeping track, Ashley and I left our jobs and moved away from Dallas in late September to become Maryknoll Lay Missioners (MKLM) and relocate to Tanzania in East Africa.

But what does that even mean? What will we be doing?

Let us begin with what we will not be doing: proselytizing.

We are not about converting people to our religion. Ashley and I are right at home with the Roman Catholic church (though it ain't always easy), but we're not expecting everyone or anyone else to just get onboard with our belief system. We find tremendous richness and truth in other faith expressions.

This is important to state upfront since we have found that a lot of baggage comes with the word "missioner." Heck, a lot of baggage just comes with saying that we're moving to Africa to do nonprofit work. In either instance, we have found that folks quickly make a bunch of leaps and assume that we are missionaries looking to build churches, translate bibles, and "save souls."

We will be doing none of that.

"Salvation of souls" is pre-Vatican II business - old school mentality. Mission after Vatican II is about being witnesses and liberation (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 1975). It's about complex realities and inter-religious dialogue (Redemptoris Missio, 1990). It's about living in a post-modernity context, which recognizes that all of creation is evolving, holistic, creative, expanding, interrelated, interconnected, and interdependent. It's a more liberating worldview, going well beyond stuff like changes to the Roman Missal.

a joke that can only be appreciated by church-going Catholics.

At the heart of MKLM are eight core values. Within the beauty of these values, MKLM states that we do not "bring the Gospel" to other peoples. The faith life of local people and the experience of the sacred in other cultures are a gift to us.

Before we get into the nitty gritty of what we will be doing in Tanzania, it's important to understand something else.

MKLM is our employer. They send us overseas and provide the basic infrastructure and resources to carry out our work (but we still need your help). However, once in Tanzania, Ashley and I actually work directly with existing local nonprofit organizations that MKLM helped identify for us.

In other words, we work with Tanzanians in organizations run by Tanzanians on projects supported by Tanzanians combatting issues deemed important by Tanzanians.

This is not MKLM telling Tanzanians what should be important to them and what Tanzanians need to fix. As missioners, we are there to listen to, learn from, and partner with the local people on the things that matter to them. MKLM talks with the people in the communities we serve to understand what is important to them, and then matches up missioners based upon their skill sets and passions. The end goal is self-sufficiency on the part of the local people, not dependency.

Okay, with that behind us, let us now turn our attention to what we will be doing.

battling the misconceptions of what nonprofit work actually means

Michael's Work
I will be working with the African Probiotic Yoghurt Network (APYN). The APYN is an organization that works to improve community health, especially people living with HIV/AIDS, while at the same time reducing poverty and advancing development through the economic empowerment of women and youth.

In a nutshell, APYN operates kitchens around the city of Mwanza which produce, distribute and sell probiotic yoghurt. Probiotics in yoghurt help the immune system, which is really important for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Each kitchen is managed by women and youth, who are taught entrepreneurship and job skills. A certain percentage of the yoghurt is given away for free to people with HIV/AIDS, and the rest is sold to locals to help recoup the cost of that which was given away for free.

Ashley's Work
Ashley will be working with the Mwanza Youth and Children Network (MYCN). The MYCN is an organization that works to inspire and facilitate youth and children to participate and acquire their intellectual, physical, moral, cultural and economic development.

In a nutshell, MYCN operates a bunch of youth and children programs around the city of Mwanza, which are focused on youth and children rights and policies, education support, science and technology, HIV/AIDS, drug abuse, reproductive health, economic empowerment, and sports.

The MYCN envisions a prosperous Tanzania in which youth and children are able to have sustainable development and realize their roles and full potential in society. Programs occur in schools, on TV and radio, and beyond.

So that's what we know right now. We really value the MKLM approach of matching the skill sets of missioners with the stated needs of the local people. I have business and consumer products experience. Ashley has youth and children experience. From where we currently stand, these ministries seem like a good fit, but of course things will evolve and our exact function will flesh out with time.

On that note, I will end with this thought: mission is not something done because of a command. Mission is, in it deepest identity, a privilege and a grace. Ashley and I feel so blessed to be here.

*special thanks to Tom Henehan, M.M. for his notes on the theology of mission.

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