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Poverty stereotypes lead to misconceptions

Breigha Sawyer warns that our preconceived notions about the world should not color serving abroad. | Marika Adamopoulos/THE CHIMES


Missions Conference week brings about mixed emotions for many students. Some may feel an excitement, a willingness to allow God to direct their path, while others may feel apprehension, a fear of the unknown. There are many preconceived ideas of missions and on the problem of poverty that shapes opinions and beliefs. I believe the solution in breaking down these stereotypes lies in the beauty of receiving and giving grace.


The dictionary defines stereotype as “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.” It is the received idea of something or someone based on a misguided image or encounter. It can often lead to prejudice, hostility and a hard heart toward the unknown.


When traveling abroad for missions, there is a sense of adventure, exploration and excitement of seeing a third-world country for the first time. One dreams of hugging orphans, feeding the poor and coming back to America with a new identity as someone who has done some sort of good in this world. These in themselves are not bad ideals. However, once in a country, seeing and touching the poor becomes more than what is pictured on Compassion International’s website. My heart sank when I first realized the gravity of poverty. This is not because they are simply poor but because I cannot do anything to actually fix the problem of poverty. Rather, this is an overwhelming feeling, a feeling of insignificance in realizing the greatness of need.


I clearly remember my first mission trip to Panama. I was the ambitious 14-year-old, youth group attending world changer. I went for two weeks under the impression that I could help. I could do something to change people. It was all for the Gospel but I did not truly understand the meaning of poverty and underdevelopment. Yes, this trip changed my life for the better, but looking back, I had stereotypes about missions based on what the American church portrayed. The church has gone to great lengths to aid third-world poverty, but entitlement and stereotypes have changed the way Americans view the poor. They are more than helpless people waiting for rescue from Americans, and we are far from heroic.

In light of Missions Conference week, let us attempt to break down preconceived ideas of missions and third-world poverty, and explore a world outside of ourselves: a world of beholding the grace of God for the glory of God. We need to humble ourselves, elevate our God and give grace.


Your Turn.  Post a Comment

  1. jerry lewis

    And respect the local religion. March 11, 2015

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