The Red Couch: Dangerous Territory Introduction


red couch - dangerous territory - introduction

The appalled look on their faces told me this idea was unwelcome. To my non-Christian friends, the mere mention of “missionaries” conjured images of vulnerable people cajoled into forsaking their own cultural traditions, hungry citizens of developing nations promised food in exchange for a proclamation of faith in Jesus and a denunciation of other gods, and White “saviors” colonizing hearts and minds. I didn’t expect this.

I was in high school and had only been a Christian for a short time. I was unprepared for my friends’ resentment at the thought of missions trips. At church, missionaries were spoken of with reverence, as those who had answered a holy calling, those who were sent out for great work. In her book, Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World, Amy Peterson describes this dichotomy well, opening her story with:

“Dear Reader, I wanted to be extraordinary, the greatest, truest kind of Christian, one whose life counted – not one who raised 2.5 children behind a white picket fence in American suburbia. I wanted to be one of heaven’s heroes” (p. 13) and a few pages later, “Despite my sincere and passionate desire to change the world for God, I hated the term – missionary – for all the connotations and baggage trailing behind it. I dreaded being aligned with the long history of abuse that educated westerners commonly associate with “missions” – destruction of indigenous cultures in the name of Christ, introduction of foreign diseases, wars in the name of evangelism” (p. 18).

Peterson tells of her experience as a missionary in Southeast Asia, serving as an English teacher in a “closed” country – a country that does not allow religious missionaries. Throughout the first half of the book, she holds the reader in suspense, hinting at a twist in the story, an unexpected turn in the road that would change her life and complicate her feelings toward mission work and God himself.

Her account is approachable, insightful, and honest. She recounts her own experiences in detailed prose, inviting readers to taste and smell and live in this new culture with her. And she treats every person in the story as a beloved child of God, each unique and full of potential.

Through short “Interlude” chapters, she also provides readers with historical background on mission work and commentary on what missions might be if we envisioned them differently. She candidly writes about gender roles, culture clashes, race, class, and privilege, and what it’s like to see Western Christianity from the outside. She grapples with the way people back home in America respond to her work and faces her own doubts and feelings about God, missions, and calling.

Back in high school, my friends had planted a sufficient amount of doubt in mind about mission work. I never took a trip myself as a missionary and wondered about the value of Westerners entering another culture to educate and evangelize. Peterson wrestles with all these themes and more, learning how to balance her desire to “do great things for God” and admit her own limitations and hesitations. She challenges assumptions about missions and about what it means to do big things or small things for God, to either stay or go, to be used by God.

Dangerous Territory invites you to consider this complex topic with a critical eye while remembering that there is nothing we can do to earn or deserve God’s love. We are all beloved, no matter where and how we choose to stay or go. God is always faithful.

Join us this spring in reading Peterson’s story. Come back on May 23 for our discussion post and join our Facebook group to discuss the book throughout the month.


The Nightstand: A short list of books to enhance and deepen your reading experience.

Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D. L. Mayfield

Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted by Shannan Martin

Overturning Tables: Freeing Missions form the Christian-Industrial Complex by Scott Bessenecker

Red, Brown, Yellow, Black, White – Who’s More Precious in God’s Sight? A Call for Diversity in Christians Missions and Ministry by Leroy Barber with Velma Maia Thomas

Short-Term Mission: An Ethnography of Christian Travel Narrative and Experience by Brian Howell

Three Quick Ways to Improve a Short Term Missions Trip by Craig Greenfield at A Life Overseas Blog