Book review: A Just Mission

Anvil journal of theology and mission

Mekdes Haddis, A Just Mission: Laying Down Power and Embracing Mutuality, (Downers Grove: IVP, 2022)

reviewed by Cathy Ross, CMS

Mekdes Haddis is Ethiopian and has been living in the USA since she went there to study at college. She now lives with her family in South Carolina. Her book really is about what the title states and is a searing critique of Western missions. Her goal is to move mission from a transactional relationship to one of relational mutuality that is engaged with by everyone in the global church, not just Westerners. 

She offers a powerful judgement on white Saviourism, which she sees as a great threat to the gospel. She debunks the idea of Africa as the “white man’s graveyard”, a 19th century concept but still quoted as recently as 2017. She counters this with a powerful rewriting of this narrative, “Colonialism is known at the ‘black man’s graveyard.’ After white people stepped foot on the beautiful continent of Africa, death and desolation followed” (p 25). She demonstrates how often mission has been harmful and destructive in the way it has been carried out from the West to the rest. She claims that our faith must be divorced from imperialism, that we must stop creating dependency and become genuine disciples. She links this discipleship beautifully to the necessity of seeing how God has already revealed Godself in local cultures and that this is the beginning of a journey towards mutuality and serving together.

Perhaps her most hard-hitting chapter is her analysis of short-term mission. She claims that estimates put two million people on short term mission trips every year and spend about four billion dollars – the same as Haiti’s budget for the country! She challenges the very premise of short-term mission and believes that it benefits the goers much more than the receivers. She wonders why so many people are willing to travel on these trips overseas but are strangely reluctant to get involved with people from some of these countries who are just down the road. There may well be immigrant communities from those countries and yet no effort is made to learn from them before visiting those same countries. She offers some helpful questions and concludes with some best practice suggestions to ensure best practice in short-term mission.

I found her emphasis on discipleship as being filled with the Holy Spirit to witness and being prepared to suffer a helpful corrective to much of our institutionalised mission engagement. This is a theme that keeps recurring and is something that the West can learn from the Majority World church – a focus on the infilling of the Spirit, an expectation that discipleship may incur suffering and hardship, and the importance of prayer. She reminds us that there are disenfranchised people all around us and that mission can happen at home.

This is a book that is not afraid to face the tough issues – race, justice, money, power, the danger of dogmatic theology and how these issues have distorted the practice of mission in the hands of the West. I heartily recommend this book – it is not easy reading for anyone but it unmasks so much of our hubris around mission: the vested interests, where the power lies, the focus on money, metrics and strategies and especially how we in the West have so often made mission into a transaction rather than a relationship of mutuality, imbued with the Holy Spirit, and lived out in a discipleship that calls us to a life of witness and suffering.

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