Friday, September 20, 2013

BEWARE of STEREOTYPES


MOVIE GOER
This is something authors have to keep in mind
each time we create and write a character. And
stereotyping people is something we're too often
guilty of doing in real life. You only have to hear of
someone's occupation for a caricature to spring to mind.

One example: A MISSIONARY.

Now according to many Hollywood films I've seen, a missionary is usually seen as either of two types - a gentle, absent-minded soul who can't make it in the real world. Or a harsh tyrant trampling culture and forcing indigenous people to accept his own ingrained ideas of Christianity.

A real life occurrence of that mindset happened sometime ago. I'll fill in the background.

Many, many years before, five young male missionaries were speared to death in the steaming Amazon rainforests of Ecuador. They'd just begun to make overtures to the Auca Indians (as they were then known.) The mass media splashed the shocking headlines right around the world. Yet their sacrifice resulted in many great changes to those tribal people.

Now fast forward ....  When an a group of anthropology students asked permission to study these people, the tribe gave their consent. Some thirteen hours later after trekking through thick jungle and mountain gorges, the exhausted students reached camp...and fell on their faces. Once they'd recovered and eaten, the group began making pronouncements of how the missionaries had ruined their tribal culture. The people seemed puzzled. Then they were asked if they were worse off after being invaded by the missionaries, supposedly with the white man's germs killing them off.

When that was also translated the natives began to laugh uproariously. Now the students looked puzzled and asked, "What's so funny?" The tribal elders promptly answered: "No, no. We were saved from killing each other off." They then pointed out various tribal members and explained, "This man's father I killed, then his two brothers and his aunt." Another indicated a woman. "Her husband I speared, and her sister." Others soon joined in ... describing the routine of pay-back killings.

At that point the students' eyes grew rounder at the tale of horrific bloodshed.One of them asked the local missionary, "Are we safe here?"  But then the elder added, "Hating and killing we lived. But now Jesus has filled our hearts with His love. He has forgiven our many sins and now we want to tell other tribes about Him." Many an eye glistened and they experienced genuine embarrassment to realize just how far removed was the the stereotype of the bungling missionary.

Rita Stella Galieh is the author of two published books and is involved in an Australia-wide Christian radio program, VANTAGE POINT. This is an excerpt from one yet to be aired. She also shares real life stories of authors and anyone who cares to share about their personal romance/marriage in her weekly blog,
http://inspirationalromance.blogspot.com  Her contact is: ritagalieh  at  gmail  dot  com   
She'd love to hear from you!


16 comments:

  1. Hi Rita

    That is so often true that characters are stereotyped.

    I chuckled at the two stereotypes of missionaries you mentioned - as Kingslover's popular Poisonwood Bible has both stereotypes in it's pages. As I spent much of my childhood in Zambia just a few miles south of the Congo (where the book is set) and just a few years later - I will say our experience of the Southern Baptist missionaries and Australian Baptist missionaries was vastly different from the very cardboard, over the top stereotype, thoroughly unpleasant stereotype of Nathan Price!

    I also chuckled at the response of the anthropology students with their preconceived ideas. There is both a film The End of the Spear and also a documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor which retells the deaths of the 5 missionaries & the transformation of the Huaorani tribe (including the son and grandson of one of the original missionaries killed). It's an amazing story and both are well worth watching. Many would know the original story written by the widow of one of the other men - Elizabeth Elliot Gates of Splendor.

    A great reminder to look beyond the stereotypes.

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  2. What an interesting and informative comment, Jenny. I met two men of the Huaorani tribe at the Billy Graham conference back in 2000. They were such happy well adjusted fellows.

    Re writing, this is something I work hard at. It irritates me when I come across obvious stereotypes. The perfect hero or an evil antagonist without the slightest redeeming feature.

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    1. Yes, I saw those films and read the original book. In fact it challenged us both to go to Bible College. We never ended up as missionaries...not practical enough...but a ministry of the arts in Evangelism. God can use anything if we're willing.

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  3. Thanks for your post Rita. I hear so much about the evils of colonialism, and while I know that first contact often did involve the introduction of disease, and sometimes some cruel and violent behaviour, it is good to remember that God did and does have a purpose in bringing his love to all peoples of the earth, and that sometimes the original culture is not all wonderful. I'm sure missionaries have made mistakes in their naivete at times, but I am also sure that there are a lot of different native peoples who thank God for the bravery and sacrifice of missionaries who have brought to them the message of salvation, forgiveness and love.

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  4. So right on all counts, Meredith. And there are surely many stories of faith in action that only the Lord knows about!

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    1. BTW I did receive your intriguing book, Cora Villa on my kindle and am taking it to Thailand in our month long ministry where I can't find a scrap of paper in English to read!

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  5. Too true about the stereotypes,Rita. And not just with missionaries. Look at nearly any movie or book with a Christian minister and they are mostly portrayed as weak and ineffectual. Sad, isn't it? I loved reading your story of the changes God makes.

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  6. Thanks Dale. Well maybe it's our privilege to change that a little with the stories we write.

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  7. Thanks Rita. You are right. We all do create stereo types and are too judgmental too quickly aren't we? That's a wonderful story of what the missionaries did - so much ignorance in the world and perhaps our lives as story tellers is to uncover some of the blinders that are across many eyes today. Thanks for sharing and God bless you.

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    1. And I think you do have the gift of story-telling, Anusha. Keep those parables coming!

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  8. A timely (and humorous) reminder of what NOT to be guilty of :) The same goes for Christian clichés found all too often in books, tracts, and people's minds.
    I know that you are extremely busy at the moment, Rita, so am especially appreciative of this post.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Margaret. And I happen to know you are also on call for many speaking engagements at the present time. It reminds me that with our different gifts and talents our Lord is a God of variety. He uses us all in so many ways.

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  9. A well-written and convincing piece, Rita.

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  10. Thank you. I appreciate that. (I had a peep at your interesting blog and enjoyed the story of Fyshwick!)

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