The Irony of BarbieSavior

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A few months ago, I came across BarbieSavior on Instagram. It’s an ironic take on a young white woman who goes to Africa and wants to save the world. It’s mortifying. When I discovered BarbieSavior I instantly thought, She’s just like me when I was that age.

When I was twenty, I wanted to save the world in one sweeping altar call. I loved God, the needy, the hurting, and the poor. Mostly I loved how I felt when I got to preach to them.

At 15, I went on my first trip to Mexico and was forever changed by my experience there. I took to international life the way a musician takes to a new instrument. I loved speaking Spanish, the food, and the blazing needs all around me. I loved meeting the people and playing with the children. I stayed with a woman named Nimpha in an upper room in her house. She didn’t have running water, so I took sponge baths and used an outhouse with gnats flying everywhere. We learned how to talk to one another the way people do who don’t share the same language speak together: with our hands, our faces, and through exchanging great big hugs.

The next year, I went back to Mexico and learned more Spanish, experienced building houses in Tijuana, and met a woman named Blanca who was overjoyed we’d built her a ten-square-foot shack with a dirt floor. She swept her dirt floor every morning.

When I graduated high school, I moved onto a missionary ship with 200 people from over forty countries. Each one of us worked in a specific job to maintain the running of the ship and we all did ministry work. I wanted to share the love of Jesus with every person I could get my hands on. Some of this was because I loved Jesus. I had given him my life a few years before and I’d changed as a result. I also dreamed of becoming a famous missionary with thousands of converts to my name. We’re such a mix of good and bad motives, aren’t we?

So, I got down to the business of sharing God’s love with the people around me.

About nine months into my time, we sailed down the coast of Mexico. One evening, I went out for door-to-door evangelism. I had learned enough Spanish to be a bad interpreter and understand most of what people were talking about. I didn’t know enough to communicate the depths of my heart. I’m sure I sounded stilted and broken, and yet, I pressed in. I ended up in front of a large metal fence calling for the residents of a small house to come out and hear the good news of Jesus.

A woman wearing a dirty, tight tank top and flimsy flip-flops staggered out of her house. I didn’t take the time to ask how she was doing. I didn’t care much about how she was doing. I needed to use the little time we had to share the gospel with her. My message went something like this: Jesus loves you and has a plan for your life. He died on the cross to restore you to relationship with God. If you invite Jesus into your life and ask forgiveness for your sins, he will make you new and you will have peace. And as a bonus, you won’t go to hell when you die.

Dust rose around us in the heat. Stray dogs ambled about, lingering on the sides of the dirt roads. It was hotter than hades, and I was extremely thirsty. I wanted to tell this woman the good news, pray with her, and high-tail it back to the ship where there was air conditioning.

God had another idea. He needed to kick my arrogant Christian butt and give me a good dose of reality.

The woman looked at me with tired eyes and was polite enough to lean close to the metal fence and listen to my good news about Jesus. And then she spoke …

Her story—the one I had no time to hear—was that this exhausted woman was completely out of money and couldn’t find work anywhere. So, in a desperate desire to take care of her only son, she planned to become a sex trade worker that very night. What else could she do?

The woman waited for me to respond like she honestly wanted me to answer her question. What else could she do? I was twenty years old and from a rich, developed country. I had no idea what she was supposed to do.

I gulped and told her the only thing I knew. Jesus loved her. I prayed for her, gave her a tract with the name of a local church, asked for God to provide her a way out of her terrible predicament, and then went back to the ship. I walked up the gangway to my cabin and had one of the most gut-wrenching crises of faith in my young life. What was I doing on some ship traveling around the world telling people that Jesus loved them? That woman needed more than good news, she needed the means to make a different living. And telling her how to avoid hell? She was already living in hell. I don’t think she was all that worried about going there in the future.

It was one of the most authentic moments I’ve had with the God I claimed to represent. What business did I have telling her anything? What good were a few words about God’s love? She needed real help, not some pat-on-the-back, God-is-with-you-even-though-it’s-hard crap. In the end, I spent the better part of the next three months in a faith crisis and refused to tell anyone that God loved them. It seemed trite, trivial and arrogant.

Then, one night in El Salvador, a woman came onto the ship and told me she had to talk to me. She had something to tell me. I was tired and hot. It was late and I wanted to go to bed. I tried to blow her off, but she insisted.

Her story, the one I was too tired to hear, was that years ago, she had been a sex trade worker in some bar and a few girls from a ship came to tell her that Jesus loved her. They gave her a tract with the name of a local church on it. Those girls prayed for her and left. She never saw them again. Eventually, Louisa walked over to that church.

That night, Louisa beamed at me, her eyes so bright with love and hope, she made Christmas season appear dim. She was now a Sunday school teacher in that very church. Jesus had changed her life. She was no longer a sex trade worker. She said it was because those girls had walked into her bar and told her that Jesus loved her. Those words, she explained, were enough to give her the courage to risk walking out of the tavern to find help.

At twenty, I had so many things to learn about this world, God, life and hope. First, I clearly needed to take a long lesson in learning to listen to people’s stories.

People’s lives are filled with treasures of heartache, tales of loss and newfound love, and with overwhelming moments of God’s grace.

I also needed to discover for myself that in spite of everything, against all the odds of poverty and hopelessness and against injustice, God does change people’s lives. Yes, through people willing to help, by changing public policy and by digging wells, through micro-loans, and feeding programs, by providing clean water, and vaccinations and many other practical ways. But also through young girls willing to walk over to a sex trade worker and tell her all about this man named Jesus, who loves us.

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Tina Osterhouse
Tina Osterhouse is passionate about living deeply and authentically. Through fiction, blog posts, and creative essays, she writes about ordinary life and the way God meets us in our everyday circumstances and creatively weaves the sacred into them. She studied ministry and theology at Northwest University, most recently lived on thirty acres in Southern Chile, and finally returned to the Seattle area in June of 2015.
Tina Osterhouse
Tina Osterhouse

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