As a Young Adult Volunteer, I am not a missionary. I am a mission partner with the Presbyterian Church of Colombia (IPC).
What is the difference? It’s a question I’ve struggled with. I’ve heard the word missionary used a lot in reference to my YAV year by the people in my community. I have even been guilty of using it myself when it just seems easier than explaining the problematic nature of the term. On the surface, being a mission partner doesn’t really sound that different anyway.
But the difference is simple: I am not needed.
The missionary has bought into the “white savior” complex: that the people they are serving have needs that can only be filled by white westerners. As a mission partner, I am not going to spend a year in Pital de Megua, Colombia because they need me. There is no job I can do there that cannot be done by another Colombian. I am going because the Presbyterians of Pital de Megua invited me. I am going because they want me there. I am not going to impose my idea of what they need on their community, but to learn from and contribute to their witness. I am not going so I can serve as their “savior,” but as their partner in the mission of their church. The IPC has been a strong and effective witness throughout the past fifty years of conflict. They don’t need missionaries to come in to save them, but they want mission partners to come and work with them and build community between our countries.
Going through this week of “dis-orientation” as the program calls it, coming to the realization that I am not needed has been an incredibly difficult and humbling experience. My culture has taught me that as a privileged white person it is my job to help people of color. But this worldview is not one that I want to or should be basing my faith upon. The people of Colombia have just as much, if not more, to offer me as I have to offer them. If I am a missionary, then the citizens of Pital de Megua become my charity case. If I am a mission partner, they remain what they are: my sisters and brothers in Christ.