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‘Doing yourself out of a job’ vs international teams

When we were preparing to come to Tanzania, we said we’d do 10 years, and we purposely put a time limit on it. We are not ‘career missionaries’: our goal has been to build up Tanzanian believers and movements, such that our input is no longer needed. In the development sector they talk of ‘doing yourself out of a job’. Our contribution may necessary for a time, but if we do our job well, we will train locals who can take over from us. The Tanzanian government is moving in this direction as well, requiring expats to produce documentation about ‘succession planning’ when renewing work permits.

This is no easy task. One obvious complication here is funding: we come free to an organisation whereas they’d have to pay or fundraise for a Tanzanian replacement. There are lots of complications to this rather lofty goal actually, but recently we’ve been questioning whether it’s a goal we ought to hold in the first place.

Arthur’s colleague Joan (pictured below) has recently come back from the Lausanne Younger Leaders’ Gathering in Jakarta. Like us, she’s a missionary in Tanzania: she’s Kenyan. One idea she picked up from YLG is that the future of mission and ministry is international teams. While we have been talking about doing ourselves out of a job, and in one way or another replacing ourselves with Tanzanians, Joan’s talking about teams become more racially diverse rather than less and this has given us pause.

joan-and-tamie

In our Australian context, I wholeheartedly agree with this idea. We firmly believe that the Australian church is enriched by the perspective and ministry contribution of non-Australians; indeed we’ve been saying that we are impoverished without it. Here in Tanzania too, our presence at least implicitly suggests that we as Australians have something to offer Tanzanians, and that there’s value in that cross-pollination. So why do we talk about leaving Tanzania and working towards the goal of TAFES having no foreign staff? Isn’t there a double standard there? Why is TAFES to be fully staffed by indigenous Tanzanians when we would strongly encourage AFES to build teams that include non-Australians?

Part of the answer is to do with historic power dynamics. Because Australians tend to assume that others need us and our perspective, we are not used to being receivers or learners. The spiritual discipline and fruit of humility comes uneasily to us, and as a result we rarely afford others the opportunity to critique us, or help us to see our blind spots. International teams help us to see our place in the global and historical Christian movement, and remind us that we expect to see all nations worshipping around the throne in the new creation.

In Tanzania, the history is quite different. The legacy of colonialism continues. Even where the contribution of white people has been positive — and there’s some suggestion it has been in the case of missionaries — there can still be a common practice of making more space for white people, views and ways of doing things. The reasons for doing so are complex and interrelated: sometimes it’s a way of welcoming a foreigner; often it’s tied up with wanting to access western money; sometimes there’s an assumption that western ways must be better since western countries are more developed. And there is no shortage of westerners wanting to do their bit in Africa (on their own terms of course!) so sometimes they are easier to source than locals. In this context, the challenge is not for the local church to have the humility to receive help, but to have the dignity and the capacity to self-sustain. This is why we have talked about working towards the goal of making ourselves obsolete.

These are some of the reasons we said to Arthur’s boss, we’d love for him to tell us in a few year’s time, ‘Thank you for all you’ve done, but we don’t need you any more.’ But now I’m not so sure. We’ve previously thought that if CMS Australia were to have an ongoing relationship with TAFES after us, that would be a negative thing, and something we would have to bear the responsibility for. But what if TAFES wanted to continue the relationship, not because they were dependent on CMS to supply workers, but because they had loved the involvement of international brothers and sisters and did not want to give that up? Isn’t that the kind of dependence on Christians of other nations we would love to see in the Australian church?

At one level what happens after us is beyond our control; on another, our goals deeply affect how we conduct ourselves now. So this is a current issue for us and one we’re only just starting to think through.

Categories: Ministry & mission Mission University ministry Written by Tamie

Tagged as:

Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

6 replies

  1. Thanks for that Tamie. I use that same terminology of seeking to make myself redundant. As you suggest, it seems to be a reaction to colonialism. I wonder if in a sense, however, that its just reverse colonialism (reactions often contain the catalyst within them).

    International teams, a helpful paradigm shift, seems to advocate the constant presence of the ‘other’ in mutual, messy dependence, rather than the elimination of the other in colonialism or ‘doing ourselves out of a job’ approach. I realize that that distorts both colonialism and working towards local independence, but it may still be a helpful generalization for discussion purposes.

    You’ve certainly got me thinking as we prepare to go.

  2. Thanks Tamie for blogging about this topic. As a cross-cultural worker in Australia, a frequent comment of mine is that the world is heading “from everywhere to everywhere”. So the concept of teams composed of international workers is probably something that reflects the nature of our changing world.
    I’d love to have some brothers & sisters from another country come and work with my team in Sydney. You’ve got me thinking about how to find or recruit such workers -and there would be many hurdles to overcome. But you’ve definately planted an idea there…

    1. Yes, the ‘everywhere to everywhere’ gets bandied about a lot, but the question of how to change our expectations and practice to align with that is a big one!

      1. Well a start would be to look beyond those you normally would include in your team (such as from your own ethnicity, nationality or Theological College education). In my setting I wonder if I could interest those in a sister organisation overseas to come work with my team for a few years? The advantage of campus over church in this regard is the dynamic nature of the ministry. From my experience, it is much more difficult for most mission agencies to adapt to these changes.

  3. Yeah, great suggestion – though a complex one with issues of money and the short-term aspect of it. This is something we’ve seen work really well in Africa actually, not only with Joan and us on the team, but also Nigerians in the past. The cross-pollination is one of the things we love about IFES, and we’d love to see AFES avail itself of that more fully. The Aussie model is pretty unusual in IFES – that brings a stack of strengths, but also a number of assumptions that need to be interrogated.

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