Yes, winning souls is the ultimate goal but how we go about that makes all the difference. Emily Clark has worked as an intern on the Pine Ridge Reservation and shares this story which illustrates how a mission team can go wayyyy off the rails in seeking to share the gospel. With her permission, I share a portion of it here.
One of the more horrific experiences of my life, related to my experience of the Church, took place last summer while I was living and working of the Pine Ridge Reservation. A little about the community before I tell you the story, because I believe context will help you understand. Manderson, where I lived, is 15 miles from the closest gas pump; it has a school k-8, a college center, a tribal office, a tiny store where a gallon of milk costs $5, a post office, and a day care center. About 600 people live in the community. Pine Ridge has 80-90% unemployment, an average yearly income of about $3,500, and a life expectancy for men of 46 and women 52. There is one small Catholic Church in the community of Manderson and it does not have regular services. I can rattle off other stats but you get the point, life there is hard and if anyone needs to be shown the love of God it is the Lakota people.
While I was there working for YouthWorks hosting youth mission trips, my team and I worked to shoe the people in the community that we came because we loved them, another church group came for a week long mission trip. This group, who denomination will remain nameless, invited the entire community and the 70+ YouthWorks participants to a free Indian Taco meal. An Indian Taco, which is not a racist term trust me, is the best food in the world. My mouth waters just thinking it about them. Anyway I gave my permission for my group to be a part of this activity because a meal is a great way to engage with people and interact with them on an even level. The pastor planning this event plastered the community with signs inviting them to a free meal. No cost, nothing you have to give or do to be a part of it, just come and eat.
About 400 hungry people crammed into the tiny gym Wounded Knee District expecting a meal and were given instead a worship service. Hymns were sung from the stage while the White Christians attempted to engage the native people sitting at the tables across from them. Then came the message, it was at this point that I entered the gym, totally unaware of what was happening my community. I felt terrible. Here was this pastor speaking from the stage to a room full of hungry people telling them how if they only accepted Jesus into their hearts as their savior everything would be better. They wouldn't go to hell when they died. Even thinking about it makes me cringe; this pastor knew nothing about the pain that people lived with daily. The people who filled that gym expecting a meal lived in a daily hell. Hell was all around them, hell is not being able to feed their children, hell is be a child who is raped by his or her drunk uncle, hell is a 6 year old riding her bike for 2 days straight because she does not have place to sleep
While I was sitting there cringing at the disgrace that the pastor was preaching in the name of Jesus he pulled out the classic, turn or burn moment. I am sure that some of you have experienced it.
He said, "Now everyone close your eyes," something no one did, "Now raise your hand if you don't want to spend eternity burning in hell."
I heard several people around me yell, "we are hungry and want to eat, just raise your hand."
The pastor, "We are not going to eat until someone comes to Jesus and steps away from Hell."
Finally after the acceptable number of people raised their hands, we were able to eat. The next day, an ice cream social was offered to the community and before they could get their ice cream they had to listen to the same message. Then the Christian's left, they did their good service to the poor Indians, and then went home.
I was left saddened and frankly amazed at how the love of God got boiled down to a way to get a free Indian taco or a free ice cream Sunday. I had invested a year of my life in that community showing people that being a Christian was about love and being able to see the love that God has for them. I did not see the point to warn people about hell, when it was all around them. What they need to see is heaven here and now. If you are going to describe a revolutionary concept to people speak of peace and love enduring and conquering all.