Missions is No Place for the Selfie-mindset :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

Missions is No Place for the Selfie-mindset

Jennifer Pearson
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This question was recently presented to me, “Is there something in particular you would like to share with young people interested in missions?”  Folks who know me know I can usually find something to say. There is a trend I have seen that I would like to mention. 

When I first started with GFA at the end of the last century (I love saying that!), flip phones were all the rage, and my “laptop” computer weighed more than twice my current machine. I did not become aware of “selfies” until well into my missionary career. Before you ask, I rarely take selfies, and only then while under duress (I recently had to do it for government paperwork here in Papua New Guinea). I suspect that has more to do with my personality than my age. 

As time marches on, it seems that some young people are tempted to take “mission trips” both for the selfie opportunities and the chance to “compete” with their peers on social media, rather than a desire to be Christ’s slave. I have noticed an increasing trend that people want to video themselves doing “good deeds” or pursuing unusual adventures. Is it really a good deed if we are the main motive? Didn’t the Lord have scathing words of judgment for those who make loud prayers on street corners? Jesus said, “They have their reward,” the intimation being that their “prayers” were disregarded by the Lord because He was not the motive for the prayers. 

The Right Focus of the Camera

Now, this is not to say that photographs and videos have no place in missions. On the contrary, I myself was significantly influenced as a child by the slide presentations shared by visiting missionaries. These were not the kinds of slide presentations some readers may recall. This was a big machine, and every picture was a literal piece of plastic that dropped down in front of a very bright, very hot, and very fragile bulb. I have put together quite a few presentations over the years. You’d be proud of me too—the last few included clips from a GoPro camera!  Such presentations are very helpful in promoting the cause of missions. So, what am I really talking about?

What I am addressing is the tendency to focus the camera (attention) on yourself. A true missionary, such as the Apostle Paul or John the Baptist, wanted to keep the light on Christ. Did you ever hold the light for someone? It can be a tedious and maybe thankless job. The longer the job lasts, the harder it is. But you and I both know just how important it is to be a good flashlight-holder. If you were the one doing the work, and someone else was holding the light (cell phone?), you know how much help it is when the person is steady and how much harder it is if the holder is unsteady or distracted. Imagine how difficult the task might be that person kept thrusting his or her head in the light to take a selfie! 

The Importance of Unhindered Light

I remember one instance in the early years working as a medical missionary here in PNG. I think it was my second or third year here. I lived in the “bush” of a particularly violent group of people. Needless to say, I had many chances to practice my suturing skills. One night a young man showed up whose face had been slashed in a fight. He came with a friend.

The clinic building had just been built, and inside was a jumble of equipment, steel drums of supplies, and not a spark of electricity. I started in on the project (requiring multiple layers of sutures) while holding my flashlight in my teeth. If you’ve ever done this, it tends to have a couple of unpleasant side effects. One is that I was drooling, but had on sterile gloves, so I couldn’t take the flashlight out of my mouth to swallow. The second problem was that my jaw muscles began to ache. Fortunately, I was rescued from my predicament by the fact that the batteries in my flashlight died. 

I then continued the project by the light of a kerosene lantern held by his friend. One significant problem when working (more or less) out of doors with a flashlight at night is that the light attracts bugs. On that night there was a termite swarm. Literally thousands of flying termites were on the wound, on my instruments, in my ears, in my nose, etc. The poor fellow holding the light was also affected, so periodically the light would disappear altogether while he tried to clear away some of the cloud of witnesses to our proceedings. The patient’s face was covered with a sterile drape, but he could feel the little visitors quite a bit. By the end we were all three giggling at the ludicrous situation. The point of the story is that I couldn’t have done my job without light.

In the Shadows so the Light is on Christ

A missionary is simply someone who is willing to be shrouded in shadows so that Christ can be seen more clearly. A missionary should NEVER stick his head in the light, never get in the way, never get distracted. It is Christ who is working, not the missionary. Christ is the beginning and ending and everything in between. Missions is no place for a selfie-mindset. 

His lamp and I, to shine where He shall say,

And lamps are not for sunny rooms,

Nor for the light of day;

But for dark places of the earth,

Where shame and crime and wrong have birth;

Or for the murky twilight gray

Where wandering sheep have gone astray;

Or where the light of faith grows dim,

And souls are groping after Him.


And as sometimes a flame we find,

Clear shining through the night,

So bright we do not see the lamp,

But only see the light:

So may I shine—His light the flame,

That men may glorify His name.  (A.J. Flint)


Photo by Cristina Zaragoza from Unsplash