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Too smart for the majority world

I’ve blogged previously about the objections others have raised to us going to Tanzania. I’ve encountered a new one recently. Here it is: You’re too smart to go to Africa.

This argument runs along the lines that sending your best and brightest thinkers and your most gifted practitioners to the developing world is a waste. You need to keep them here where their skills and abilities can be best used.

I find this objection the most contemptible of any that have been raised. Here are four reasons why:

It’s racist. This very concept is based on the idea that people in majority world countries do not think or operate at as high a level as people in the West. It’s just a version of Noble Savage racism. People in other countries are not dumber; even if they’re not as educated, they’re still thinkers. And they may have a thing or two to teach us.

It’s selfish. Ministry in our own backyard is not more important than ministry elsewhere. Christians all around the world are our brothers and sisters and those that are unseen or disadvantaged ought to be at the top of our priority list, not the bottom.

It’s ignorant. Issues in the majority world are massively complex, especially in post-colonial countries such as Tanzania. We need our best and brightest to work in these countries, not so that they can fix them but because they, at least, might have some awareness of not barrelling in without attempting to come to terms with the complexity.

It’s uncaring. Christians in the West have consigned the developing world to the prosperity gospel for too long. Yet the word of God is not the word of God only for the Western middle classes! Now more than ever, the developing world need depth of faith, not just breadth.

Obviously I’ve laid my cards on the table, but what do you think? Are there merits to the ‘too smart for Africa’ idea?

Categories: Tanzania Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

8 replies

  1. “Are there merits to the ‘too smart for Africa’ idea?”

    Short answer: no.

    With respect, this objection to you and Arthur going smacks of one thing: the objector feels threatened.

    Threatened by your dedication, your willingness to take risks, your selflessness, and probably also your intellect. All of this seems wrapped in a smug, comfy parka of faux-concern and clean-boots “pragmatism.”

  2. Working from a purely pragmatic point of view, it does make sense to have the ‘best and brightest’ in a place where they can access the best resources to further their study and research and/or be able to use their knowledge to train as many as possible to a high standard.

    That place, however, could be Africa. With the communications technology we have, it is possible to access many resources, as well as interact with scholars from around the world, wherever you are. And while I don’t know details, I suspect that somewhere like Africa may have many more people prepared to step up and be leaders and teachers in the church than in many places in the West.

    And as always, we can’t allow pragmatics to determine what we do, it is in the end where does God want you that matters.

  3. My view is that MOST Aussie Christians should serve in Australia and MOST Tanzanian Christians should serve in Tanzania.

    The Aussie Church has a wealth of money and well-educated people, a disproportionate share. It makes sense that whatever we are abundant in, we share with the parts of the globe that have less of it. Therefore it seems more logical for a well-educated Aussie Christian to serve in Africa than a less-educated one.

    What I don’t like is a assumption that most of the sending of workers ought to be done by the developed world. Countries where the Church is strongest should be sending more missionaries, and countries like ours where the Church is rishest should be funding it.

    I’m lined up to go to Uganda for a month this summer, where I expect I will not be that useful, but I felt like God was directing me to visit Africa. It’ll be a big learning time – one thing I hope to do here in NW Adelaide in the future is assist the missionaries God is sending here from Africa.

  4. Hey Eric

    Have you read ‘Revolution in World Missions’ by KP Yohannan (of Gospel for Asia)? His argument is that cross-cultural missionaries make too many mistakes and so we ought to fund people to work in their own culture rather than sending missionaries. I don’t totally agree with his view but have found it great food for thought. It’s one of the reasons we’re so committed to long-term mission.

    We’re looking forward to the West waking up to the strength of Christianity in the majority world. The current NZ General Secretary of CMS is an African. And we’ve been enjoying mixing with Sudanese and Ethiopian Christians for placements for college – they have so much to teach us! It’ll be great to hear your reflections after being to Uganda!

  5. I think there is something to be said of keeping some highly skilled gospel workers in Aus (but not for the reason that they’re “too smart” for the majority world). I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard that Wei-Han Kuan’s (v recently completed) PhD presents a strong case that many young, energetic, passionate Christians leaving to overseas leaves a vacuum of gospel workers to build ministry here, cf. The League of Youth. This is not to say that ‘we’ (white, middle-class Xtians) shouldn’t be going overseas, just that we should be just as passionate about people building the church here.

    I haven’t read Yohannan’s book either, but I must admit I find the thesis that ‘local’ missionaries do mission best. Whether my view is formed by modernist ideas of culture (with someone who grows up in a culture best understanding it at one end, and at the other extreme Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations thesis) and needs to be disproved is another thing!

  6. A weakness of Yohannan’s argument is that the church is the worldwide body of Christ. Why not just leave it to the locals? Because Christians of every culture have things to pass on to one another.

    T and I are under no illusion (we hope!) that we know better than Africans. Indeed, we believe that we have a very great deal to learn from them! But it also seems clear that things from our background can be helpful to Christians in other cultures. The West is by no means the centre of Christianity any more, but that does not make it redundant…

  7. Great post. If anything those who are best resourced and most creative should be placed in places where their gifts are needed. In a sense, that is the best use of their talents.

    A few thoughts….

    Go to the people
    Live among them
    Learn from them
    Love them
    Start with what they know
    Build on what they have:
    But of the best leaders
    When their task is done
    The people will remark
    “We have done it ourselves.”
    -Lao Tzu-

    “If you have come to help us, you are wasting your time. But, if you have come because your liberation is bound up with our liberation, let us work together.”
    -Lili Watson, aboriginal Australian Woman-

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