Part of moving here as "missionaries" is battling misconceptions of Belize and what we intend on doing here. We have tried with each conversation with friends and interested parties to dispel images of a dark, backward culture desperately needing a white Savior. We have resisted the easy marketing ploy of posting less-than-honest images of us serving. We continually check our social media posts and mindsets, to make sure we are not casting ourselves in a savior role or portraying Belizeans in a way that is not honoring of their individuality, humor, intellect and the strengths their culture instills in them.
Sadly, for many reasons, this is not a common approach of missionaries and aide-workers in Belize. We have met several (not all) "missionaries" who look at Belizeans with disdain; who see them as little more than background to their Instagram posts, and lack any reciprocal friendships with those they are here to serve. For this reason, we have specifically asked Belizean friends and pastors to keep us accountable to not falling into that mindset since day 1.
A Belizean friend of ours posted this last night:
It beats me that there are still missionaries who come to Belize and talk about it as if it is some God-forsaken , impoverished, uncivilized country. Please! Belize is Belize and it will never be any other country, so kindly desist from judging based on your culture and standards--ethnocentricism in any form cannot be good. It only lends to snobbish, demeaning behaviour.
Do your research, educate yourself, be open to cultural diversity, and most importantly make sure you are called.
Joshua 1:15 says, "Stay with them until the Lord gives them rest, as he has given you rest, and until they, too, possess the land the Lord your God is giving them. Only then may you return and settle here...”
This has been the key verse for my work here since 2003. For me, this verse highlights the idea that we are all kinsmen. Some of us have been blessed to have been born in countries with more opportunity and more wealth. Some have been born into struggle. As kinsmen, we are not to sit down and luxuriate in our own promised lands while our brothers and sisters have yet to take possession of what is theirs.
I believe that each soul has a longing for the Promised Land which offers safety, peace, provision, salvation, an end of hopeless wandering. But I also believe that concept can be extended to entire nations. There is a promised land where Belizeans "possess the land the Lord their God is giving them." We feel it is our job to support Belizeans in actualizing the promises they've stored in their hearts.
Yesterday I was reading again in Joshua and noticed something else. For 40 years, the Israelites wandered in the desert completely dependent on God providing sustenance so they could live another day. This came in the form of quail and "manna." Interestingly, just as they were about to cross into the Promised Land, the manna stopped.
Joshua 5: 12 says, "...there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan (Promised Land)."
Reflecting on this time of crazy transition in Covid-19 Belize, I see parallels between this season and when the Israelites were moving into their inheritance. For 40 years the Israelites needed miraculous intervention in order to eat. They couldn't do it on their own. In the 38 years that Belize has been a sovereign nation, it's growth has relied heavily on foreign aide and missionaries. As the Israelites took possession, God removed their main resource, so it wouldn't become a crutch. In this season, tourism has been shut down, trade has slowed considerably and many many aide workers and missionaries have repatriated to their home lands. Could this be an opportunity for Belizeans to move forward and take hold of the promises they have held onto for years? Is it possible that scores of missionaries have been removed so that they wouldn't become (or continue to be) a crutch?
It is my heartfelt hope that the missionaries remaining would search our hearts and evaluate if we have cultivated an unhealthy power dynamic with those we serve. That we would repent for looking at Belizeans as little more than objects of pity and charity, rather than kinsmen who are posed on the threshold of reclaiming their land. May God show each of us how we can be used to further the dreams of our Belizean brothers and sisters, rather than building our own kingdoms on their land.