Mzungu, mzungu!

“I am wealthy because I have a place in heaven, not because of my clothes or house.”

These are the words of a local pastor I visited while in Uganda a few weeks ago, and they speak to one of the problems Christians find in communicating the Gospel message there.

“If poverty is all you’ve ever known in an extreme way, when you go to a God that you’re told is a rich God, you instinctively start asking for things. You begin to view wealth as having your needs met.” This pastor went on to tell me that he preaches on and prays for his congregation to come to know their worth in Christ. He said, “Yes, we should pray to our God that cares for us and gives abundantly. Yes, we should pray for health, shelter, and food. Yet we must also understand that the appearance of wealth, whether because of a thick wallet or an assumption based on skin color, are not indicative of God’s love.”

The assumptions based on skin color he referred to have become familiar to me. During my two-week visit, I was followed by shouts of, “Mzungu, mzungu!” In Bantu, the term essentially means “white wanderer,” coined for early explorers of European descent who came to “discover” Uganda. Today, many Ugandans use the term for any person of light skin, and the word comes with a great deal of baggage. Having light skin in Uganda is synonymous with being favored, and as in many other developing countries, this view contributes to the issue of  “white savior” ideology – the idea that a white Westerner can drop into a country with little understanding of the culture and solve all of a nation’s problems.

At CARH, we do our best to prepare our short-term teams to understand the complex histories and barriers that may come up as they serve in a place outside their own context. In Uganda, this means helping our teams understand the expectations they might encounter because of skin color or their U.S. passport. By examining these expectations directly and really wrestling with the baggage we ourselves bring into foreign contexts, we give our teams a much better chance of avoiding that “white savior” complex that so easily trips up believers. We know that we cannot save anyone; instead, we trust the One we serve to do so and do our best to always point back to Him.

Join us in praying that the teams we send out would help overcome the damages and hurt caused by the “white savior” complex. And pray for the people of Uganda – that they would come to know Christ in a personal way. Pray that instead of seeking worldly indicators of success, they would understand their worth and wealth in the Lord.

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” – Psalm 139:14