For a long time we have relied on volunteers to engage and complete our mission. Many of them were American, British, even Korean. But in recent years, we’ve seen young Americans come under heavy criticism for being “white saviors.” We’ve watched as many, not wanting to be shamed, have stayed away from a cause they know is worthy. It’s a problem that needs to be addressed.
As followers of Jesus Christ from Nigeria, we recognize that we are called to go and make disciples of all nations. 16 years ago, we followed God’s call to South Sudan. We saw a need in the aftermath of the civil war, so we volunteered to help. We realized that without volunteers, people would not receive the help they needed. The South Sudanese had lost so many lives to war. They needed caring hearts and helping hands.
We’ve been overwhelmed by the cries of hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese refugees who fled their country. There are so many and we are so few. A point came when we realized we needed volunteers to join us. When they arrived, they were a great help, assisting with orphan care, helping in schools, and filling in gaps we couldn’t meet alone.
Volunteering is hard. Getting volunteers to come and help us was difficult. Not only was it complicated logistically, it required sacrifice and commitment on their part and oversight on our part.
Yes, volunteers need screening and oversight in order to be effective. Volunteers need locals to help them navigate the culture and connect with the needs of the community. Some volunteers will make mistakes along the way – it’s inevitable. It’s been that way throughout history. Even the Apostle Paul had issues with his volunteers. It got messy. That’s one of the reasons he wrote the letters we find in the Bible – he’s addressing inexperienced volunteers in a new movement.
People don’t like mess. There are no perfect volunteers, only messy ones. Jesus understood that people need guidance and grace to become the kind of people He can use to meet the needs of His children. We seek to do the same. We also seek to screen and train people well to mitigate any accidental damage. We default to local leaders who know what they’re doing. And when we make mistakes, we seek to learn from them and be good representatives of Jesus. Because His command to “go” still stands – and we want to do it well.
There’s a reason that the term “white saviorism” has been coined. Those with resources and a desire to help are often disproportionately of a particular race or culture. But critics are simplifying the issue. While rightly concerned about racial justice and appropriate cultural interactions, they are inadvertently discouraging young people from even trying to help largely on the basis of their own skin color and culture. Knowing they may be ill-prepared, and realizing they may make mistakes, they choose not to even try.
Critics have stopped thousands of young people from helping in places where there is actual need. The South Sudanese in refugee camps desperately need help. The unintended consequences of the critics call for pure motives. The challenge remain, where hundreds of thousands of people in need have not been helped and are living without the resources and hope that could have been provided.
Helping people is not a race issue – it is a human issue. People of every skin color matter to Jesus. People of every skin color need help!
It is because of this that we left our comfortable home in Nigeria to help our South Sudanese brothers and sisters. We have a similar skin color, but we are so different. Along the way we have faced a chorus of critics. But we are compelled by the commission of our Lord to go. And we are compelled by the cries of the children who have no one else – only whoever comes to them.
There are a million or more of them in camps along the northern Ugandan border. They need food, water, food, good empowerment, education and more. One day they will need help returning to their homeland. We want to hold a megaphone to their voices so they can be heard in countries like America. And this is our message:
We need more help! We need more volunteers – many more of all races. We’re aware that things will get messy. They will need training and supervision. But we need young people to know that the critics, while well intentioned, are inadvertently keeping people in desperate situations from receiving the help they need. We need volunteers to come and address the humanitarian crisis before us in Jesus’ name. We welcome volunteers of any race.