The Christmas, or rather the Advent Season is often a time of year that many people endeavour to take a moment out of our already chaotic lives to reflect on all the things that we are truly thankful for.
It is a time of year that we are invited to look beyond ourselves to find ways in which we might share our abundance with those in need. But do our donations of time, talents, and treasures all convey what we think they do?
I remember a trip to Africa a few years ago in which I saw a dozen dust covered farm tractors, of a brand name I am not about to reveal, sitting on the tarmac of a major international airport.
Unused and now after many years, unusable, I couldn’t help but ask our local partner for more information.
“They were a donation to help us farm more efficiently, but no one can afford the fuel.” I was told. “And besides they don’t work well in the heat.”
And so millions of dollars’ worth of farming equipment sat and simply gathered dust.
The problem wasn’t the usability of the equipment, but rather their suitability.
Farming in Africa, as I would come to find out, is simply not the same as it is where the equipment originated. It is this misunderstanding that often leads to the actions of even our best intentions, being experienced as a perpetuation of colonialism.
In this experience I found myself being confronted with the discomforting reality of my own cultural assumptions.
It was an experience that would stay with me through the years and is one I often come back to when I myself am trying to discern which organizations to support around the holidays, both locally and internationally.
I cannot help but think that many of the organizations that abound this time of year are trying to put tractors on far off tarmacs without realizing the dangers of good intentions.
Whether they are shoe boxes filled with culturally inappropriate assumptions or gift bag handouts without the opportunity for follow up and missing a call for justice.
I cannot help but think that our assumption that we know what is best for other people in distant places might do more harm than good.
Instead of shipping off a one-time infusion of North American ideals, shouldn’t we be seeking to build independence, self sufficiency, or at the very least equal partnership?
It takes courage to admit we do not have all of the answers, but this is the time of year when anything is possible.
Don’t settle for full color ads or easy donation options. From local food banks and resource development groups to international partnerships aimed at micro loans and food security programs; there are ways that we can all step back from colonial assumptions and make a difference in the world.
Justin McNeill, Student Ministry, Intern, Coronation Presbytery, United Church of Canada