Get Thee to a Swanky Tourist Trap

What missions-oriented evangelicals gain from seeing the richer side of a poorer country.
My favorite coffee shop for the past nine months rivaled any Seattle has to offer. The barista would describe tasting notes from the latest batch of beans (roasted a few days earlier in the rear of the shop) as he measured coffee grounds on a scale and meticulously brewed them with a shiny La Marzocco machine. Taylor Swift albums played in the background as I sipped my cappuccino or cortado and typed field notes on my laptop.
My favorite coffee shop was not in the US, though. It was in Kigali, Rwanda—a tiny, landlocked country in East Africa known internally as the “land of a thousand hills.” Externally, however, it’s known as the site of a genocide where 800,000 members of the Tutsi ethnic group—nearly 1/12 of the country’s population—were murdered over 100 days in 1994.
If you’re an evangelical Christian, you likely know Rwanda as a mission trip destination: a poor developing country that you visit expecting to go without toilet paper, running water, and internet for a few weeks while you dig a well or work at a vision clinic in a rural community. You might leave the country with no idea that my favorite coffee shop existed. And you might think of Rwanda simply as a country full of poverty-stricken people who lack basic needs.
If you did, you wouldn’t be alone. For most of my life, I thought more or less the same thing about many countries in sub-Saharan Africa and around the global South—even after I traveled to Niger, Zambia, and Uganda for short trips, mostly aimed at visiting humanitarian projects. That was before I spent most of this past year living in Rwanda and traveling around the region conducting research for my dissertation.
At an intellectual level, I …Continue reading…