Every night, my grandma, my ministry partner Jayshree, and I turn on grandma's small, slightly fuzzy TV. I've come to notice that every fifth commercial is a re-run: a skin-whitening face cream or body wash. Being an Indian-American woman, this is nothing new to me - the pursuit of whitness is rampant and normalized in Asia. Growing up, I've come to believe that I am beautiful even though I have dark skin. I am keenly aware that Western globalization and "white wonder" have been powerful forces informing my personal life and this Thai society for generations.
I wish this conversation stopped with my individual quest to find beauty and worth. However, it doesn't. I left Grandma Noi's living room TV to attend to the team mid-project retreat at an international missionary retreat hotel. There we met missionaries from China, Pakistan, the Middle East, and other nations. As I looked around during the breakfast at the hotel a painful reality dawned on me; every single missionary family was white. I didn't say much for the rest of the morning, but the same question kept pounding in my head: Do I need to be white to be a missionary?
Although I've only spent about four weeks here in Bangkok, these global realities have been condensed and shoved in my face. Coupled with my tanned skin, Indians are seen as people of low class and low integrity (mainly for reselling items bought in bulk at much higher costs to populations with limited transportation abilities, i.e. the elderly in our communities). It is into these embedded perceptions of my race and my dark skin that I enter and try to be Good News.
The adoration of whiteness isn't merely a secular problem. It is the same problem entrenched into every blonde Jesus poster in our grandma's houses, into every time our Christ is called "the white man's God," into every walking ATM a Caucasian Christian on foreign soil becomes.
Is the Gospel merely modified colonialism?
Is the Gospel foreign, blond women doting our grandmas with gifts?
Is the Gospel still valid if I'm the one sharing it?
It is in these moments that I impulsively vow to never come back to Thailand for missions. It is in these moments I check out and pass the "Global Missions Torch" to the white man next to me. It is in these moments I wonder if God cares about racial reconciliation.
In my head, I know all the "correct" answers to these questions. But on some days there are miles between my head and my heart. What I do hold onto are the small things, the powerful pockets of Good News that I do see. It is Good news that P'Plar, in all her resilience and beauty, is a native Thai woman who has planted a church near Bangkok. It is Good News that P'Noi, another faith-filled, native Thai woman, started the Ruth Center to wholeheartedly serve the elderly. It is Good News that our white staff has studied and pursued racial reconciliation within social justice. It is Good News that our Trek director is an Asian-American woman.
And it is Good News that the Jesus I follow lived as a man who wasn't rich, wasn't privileged, and wasn't white. The Jesus I follow dined with the city's most marginalized. The Jesus I follow choose twelve, ordinary men to carry the Good News to the nations. The Jesus I follow suffered. The Jesus I follow cares. And the Jesus I follow gives me an identity and voice that is valid.
"The Lord your God is with you; he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quite you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." ~Zephaniah 3:17
- Cia Mathew