Will Ivory Towers Win, Again?

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Will Ivory Towers Win, Again? – the missionary and his / her boss in the west


Christian mission, practiced in the jungles of the Third World, is directed from ivory towers in the west. Some of the most renowned mission thinkers never left their home shores, but were happy to criticise the actions of those working ‘on the ground’.


Those at home seem to need to contradict the field worker on behalf of the ‘native’. In their view, they can better understand the people being reached from occasional meetings, forays, research, and reading, than does the missionary who lives amongst them.


This could be an angry attack on mission bosses, and an espousing the wisdom of field workers. But, field workers also have their failings. Some missionary’s actions leave much to be desired. The wood can be hard to see when caught up in trees. Many occupants of Ivory towers have long years of mission experience, as well as maturity and advanced education. Why not listen to them?


Unfortunately, there is an ‘invented’ Africa (India, Ceylon, Peru etc.) as well as a ‘real’ one. While the two are related, the invented image is more powerful, and is the one guiding the west. It is the way the west prefers to understand, and ‘can’ understand, ‘the other’. No matter how much field experience one they have, this is the version a scholar in the west must be guided by so as not to fall out with his colleagues.


The problem: insights acquired from the ‘invented version’ do not ‘work’ on the ground.


Jim Harries, September 2008

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