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White Savior Barbie and Short-Term Mission Trips

Have you seen the “White Savior Barbie” on Instagram? The bio for this parody account says it all:

Jesus. Adventures. Africa. Two worlds. One love. Babies. Beauty. Not qualified. Called. 20 years young. It’s not about me…but it kind of is. www.barbiesavior.com/blog/2016/6/3/stoporphantrips

Some of the posts are hilarious…

And here is a funny one…

But then some of them hit close to home…


The Huffington post article “‘White Savior Barbie’ Hilariously Parodies Volunteer Selfies In Africa” sheds some light on why the anonymous creators of this account post these pictures:

While the now defunct Socality Barbie used the beloved Barbie doll to lampoon hipster Instagram accounts, Barbie Savior is taking it one step further by poking fun at people who suffer from the “White Savior Complex.” If you’re unfamiliar, the term is used to describe the white Westerners who travel to third world countries and make the entire affair an exercise in self-congratulatory #sacrifice. 

The new account, created by two white twenty-something women (who choose to remain anonymous) was created five weeks ago, and already has over 7,000 followers. Its creators are self-professed former “white saviors,” and say they draw from their own experiences of volunteering in East Africa.  “We were never as ‘savioresque’ as Barbie Savior, but we did things back in our White Savior days that we regret,” the creators told The Huffington Post via email. “It really just started as a joke between us, a way to get some of these things off of our chest. Its hard to pinpoint the irony at times in real life… the wildly self-centered person veiled as the self-sacrificing saint.” Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing volunteer work in Africa — it’s wonderful when people take the time and energy to make a difference for those who may be less fortunate. But the makers of the account say what they’re trying to do is shine a light on the people who fetishize and over-sentimentalize the experience of visiting Africa: The people who turn smiling African school kids into living photo-ops, who talk about how “happy everybody is even though they’re so poor!“ and who never seem to specify exactly what country in Africa they actually visited (because, you know, Africa is a country).

Other articles about this sentimentality pervade:

Perhaps one of the most indicting videos I have seen was done by SAIH Norway called Who Wants to be a Volunteer? See below…

These articles have something to say to the church who may carelessly send would-be “mission workers” to all corners of the globe hoping to do some good in the name of Jesus. I am fresh off of a short-term mission trip to the Navajo Reservation in northeastern Arizona. I have been a part of close to 10 short-term mission trips both participating and leading them on three different continents.

These articles are justifiably poignant in their thrust and expose some of the dangers of “global volunteerism.” Short-term missions alone is a multi-million dollar business with companies touting the “best” mission-trip experience for a youth group. Don’t believe me? I get flyers every week at my small rural church in Joelton, Tennessee from different organizations that all say the same thing.

Yet…I am not one of those who espouses that short-term mission work is unnecessary. As I see it, short-term missions accents mission work you are already involved in at home (more on that below). If done correctly it will help sustain your ministry and compliment a church/ministry where you complete the short-term mission work. Below I have, in a very scrambled manner, a few of my thoughts in terms of some guidelines for short-term mission work. I must concede before you that I have not been perfect with the statements below as many of them come from what I did wrong instead of what I did right.

So here are my jumbled thoughts on short-term mission trip guidelines.

#1 – Partner with an organization/church that is seeking to sustain the gospel in a contextualized manner.

I will never forget a conversation I had with an African missionary. We were talking about some doctrinal issues occurring in the United States and he said: “Robbie, I try to keep the American church as far away from here as possible.” Third-world countries don’t need American churches to save them, they need Jesus.

#2 – Discern what it would look like to send your money, instead of your body.

I wrote a check one time for flights to a place we were visiting for a mission trip. The check was for about $25K. I was nauseous. What would it look like if we just sent that money to folks who know the people better than we do, could sustain longer down there than we could and would not have to worry about hotels or other ancillary expenses? I have been on a bunch of construction mission trips and I always wondered what it would look like if we paid locals to build the church building instead of us. These locals might not even have a job and so the occupation and money might be the gospel they would need at the time.

#3 – Make sure this trip is not about you.

Why are you going? What do you God will accomplish by using you? These are all valid questions to ask yourself before you go on a trip. “I’m going for the experience,” sounds good for donors but I wonder if it is a cop out or, even worse, a code name for saying, “I hope this is a good vacation.” This is not a sightseeing trip (although some of that is not bad) but it is a trip where you will hit the ground running to work.

#4 – Short-term mission trips should, in theory, compliment the mission you are involved in at home.

It is sexy to take a trip to the jungle of Brazil to give much-needed medicine to sickly folks. It is not so sexy to take the same trip in the very county you live in. Go to a school yard in Sudan and invite them to church is “mission work” but doing that in Missouri or Alabama is more like just work. What would it look like to raise money to work with folks in your own backyard? What would it look like to have your entire church involved in service-oriented work with gospel-oriented conversations in the lanes and avenues of your own hood? If our only mission work requires us to get on a plane then we are, at best, hypocrites.

#5 – Find some way to extend the relationship with the missionaries in place.

All too often we simply trash-and-dash the site we work at without cultivating an ongoing relationship. They still have ongoing needs that many of us can help with years down the road. In a sense, the place we visit becomes an extension of our own church as we fellowship through social media and email. I went on a mission trip to Peru in January of 2004 and I still pray for a guy down there who I developed a kinship with.

Ok…I know I missed some things so help me out?