Rwanda, missions, & saving our neighborhoods

Twice, I’ve had the privilege of leading mission trips to Rwanda. On both occasions, well-meaning people commented, “How great that you’re going to save the Rwandans!” or “It’s so awesome that you’re bringing God to Rwanda!”

How disappointed those folks must have been when we returned home not with stories of triumphalism but rather with stories of the myriad of ways in which God was ALREADY at work in Rwanda.


Last week, at one of his campaign rallies, President Trump, in an effort to appeal to white, suburban women (me!), made the statement, “I saved your damn neighborhood, ok?”

This statement infuriated me.

I live in an affluent, nearly all-white community. My house is spacious. Our school district has an excellent reputation.

In short, my neighborhood is beautiful.

It certainly does not need saving… Especially not the kind of saving President Trump is referring to.

You know what I’d like for my neighborhood?

I’d like for it to become more diverse.

I’d like for my kids to have neighbors that don’t look like them.

And yet, this is the very thing that President Trump has previously implied my neighborhood needs saving from.

Diversity is a gift, President Trump. It’s not what’s threatening our neighborhoods.

You are. 

Your language of division and your rhetoric of hate is what’s threatening my neighborhood and this country that I love dearly.


“We’re going to save the Rwandans.”

“We’re going to bring God to the Rwandans.”

It’s language I’ve always hated. But after listening to President Trump, now I know why.

It’s not only theologically incorrect, it’s also downright offensive to those we seek to partner with and serve.

As outsiders, who are we to suggest that someone needs saving? Or that their neighborhood does?

Who are we to suggest that we – who know nothing (or very little) about their story or that of their neighborhood – could possibly understand the deeper, systemic issues that need to be addressed?

Poverty is real.

So is hunger, violence, racism and all the other things that really do threaten our communities.

I’m not suggesting these threats don’t need to be addressed.

But dare I suggest that we – the outsiders who think we know everything but in fact know very little – might be more dangerous than helpful in trying to address these threats?

This is, I think, why helping really can hurt.

So friends, let’s drop the white savior complex. In fact, let’s just expunge the language of saving others from our vocabulary.

And then let’s get to work…

Let’s listen to people and take our cues for helping from the people affected most by the issue we're trying to address.

Let’s love our neighbors. Radically and sacrificially. 

Let’s recognize the ways in which God is already at work in our neighborhoods, both at home and abroad.

And then let’s join God in that work.

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

More about Jen

Jen's Books

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A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

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Now Available!

Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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The Real Jesus

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The Jesus Gap

What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

Based on National Research

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