8 Things Disney’s Pocahontas Taught Me About Missions
We all know Pocahontas is boss. She’s the epitome of what every young girl wants to be, or at least to me she always was. Long dark flowy hair (that never tangles, even as she runs the hidden pine-trails of the forest) perfectly tanned skin without a single freckle, she holds eagles on her arms with no problems, has a sweet heirloom necklace, a pet raccoon that can braid hair and a few henna tribal tattoos that would make a hipster drool.
If you know me, you are probably smiling in disbelief because I’m actually writing a blog post about this soapbox of mine (as Eric is doing at this moment) or you are yelling at the computer who is actually the best Disney princess, like our interns are probably doing. (I will say, Mulan is a close second due to her beastly fighting skills and independence).
But what you may not know is how serious I am about Pocahontas and the many awesome lessons that you can learn from the movie. Connectedness in all things, being brave amidst adversity, having an open heart, seeing life in new perspectives, and treasuring even the smallest moments like a hummingbird buzzing by your ear. There are so many things in her story I really love. Yeah, I know… her religious beliefs don’t line up with a Christian world view, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
Whether it be the dialogue with Mother Willow about listening to your heart, being adventurous and going against cultural expectations in Just Around the Riverbend, or fighting for what is right by laying down her life for John Smith, the story is rich with truth and application, in life and in missions.
So, what exactly can we take away from the movie when it comes to missions?
1. Every mission trip is different
Thomas: What do you suppose the New World will look like?
John Smith: Like all the others, I suppose. I’ve seen hundreds of new worlds, Thomas. What could possibly be different about this one?
John Smith makes this erroneous claim when he is talking to Thomas about the new land. In fact, quite the opposite of his “normal” experiences happened, the New World contained a woman and group of people that changed his life forever. Many times I hear people proudly boast the number of mission trips they’ve completed or been a part of in the past. That’s fantastic, and I’m glad that those people have a desire to serve in missions. But being involved in dozens of trips all around the world doesn’t mean you know exactly what to expect when going into a new community or working with a missionary in a culture that’s unknown to you. God can do amazing things in and through relationships in missions. We can’t sell Him short by expecting each trip to be the same.
2. Be open to a new path
Life is an adventure, and missions are an adventure. Many people tend to approach life in one of two ways: we either shy away from adventure in an effort to remain comfortable or we throw all caution to the wind and desire to never settle down. When those new paths seem forked and crooked, wild and dangerous to the world, let’s listen to our hearts and the leading of the Spirit.
Are you okay being comfortable? I believe that God did not call us to live a comfortable life. So many people are nervous of leaving the comforts of home to serve in another place, possibly fearing it will uproot all their previous paradigms they have held on to. But isn’t that the point, to be changed? Missions will wreck you, challenge you, and inspire you in a way that not many other experiences can. Let’s all decide to open our eyes and genuinely consider the adventures that are awaiting us.
3. Your words and actions matter
We’ve all fell guilty to speaking sentences like “They have so little,” or “We are so blessed,” or “They don’t even know how little they have.” More often than not, all of these statements are said out of a good heart with a focus being on how we should change our own perspective on what is important. That being said, phrases like this can easily come across as offensive to the culture we are working with. Take this scene from the movie, where John Smith is ignorant to how his words come across, and choose your words carefully next time you’re in this situation:
Pocahontas: London. Is that your village?
John Smith: Yes, it’s a very big village.
P: What’s it like?
J: Well, it’s got streets filled with carriages, bridges over the rivers…and buildings as tall as trees.
P: I’d like to see those things.
J: You will.
J: We’re going to build them here. We’ll show your people how to use this land properly, how to make the most of it.
P: Make the most of it?
J: We’ll build roads and decent houses and–
P: Our houses are fine.
J: You think that only because you don’t know any better…. There’s so much we can teach you. We’ve improved the lives of savages all over the world.
J: Uh, not that you’re a savage.
P: Just my people.
J: No. Listen. That’s not what I meant. Let me explain–
P: Let go!
J: No. I’m not letting you leave. Look, don’t do this. Savage is just a word, uh, you know. A term for people who are uncivilized.
P: Like me.
J: Well, when I say uncivilized. what I mean is, is–
P: What you mean is “not like you”.
4. We are the foreigners
So many times when we visit other countries, especially countries in the 3rd world, we forget that we are the foreigners. We have to be careful to remember that our own culture and ways are not normal here. What we see as manners, may not be seen as such in the country we are visiting. Sometimes this can be a big pill to swallow, especially if this is our first time being immersed in an entirely new culture.
Since we are the visitors, it is our place to respect the customs and values of the group we are visiting. Trying to bring our American culture with us to another country will inevitably end in frustration on our end, be taken as offensive by the native culture, and potentially damage relationships all around.
5. Don’t trust stereotypes
Neither the Virginia Company nor the Indians had a real relationship with a person from the other tribe, other than Pocahontas and John Smith. We see how preconceived notions, left unchallenged, built up both groups into savage, evil men in the other group’s mind and ultimately, aided in the start of war.
Working in Haiti, we deal with this constantly when talking with friends and family in the States. When you mention Haiti to someone in our country, we are always prepared to field an onslaught of questions, concerns, and judgements. (Here’s a discussion on a big question we always answer, But isn’t Haiti dangerous?)
A lot of times, in our world of technology, we feel that we can know people and cultures just by listening to the latest CNN report or YouTube viral video. We all have preconceived notions about other places, people, and cultures. We must not allow the opinions of others to dictate and form our own beliefs.
6. It can’t be about you
What are our motivations for going to work on a mission trip? It’s easy to say we are going to do good, to encourage pastors or missionaries that are working to spread the Gospel, and to help where help is needed. But how many of us want to do good in hopes that others will see us as valuable, or a good person? Do we love the attention and spotlight serving on a mission trip can bring?
In his song “The Gold is Mine,” Ratcliffe sings about his obsession with what the world will have to say about his adventure. He only cares about what people will think of him when he returns with his gold, how girls will swoon over him and men will see him as more masculine. Does this resemble our inward motivations?
Going on a service trip cannot be self-focused. It can’t be about boosting our personal resume or making ourselves feel better about the good we are doing. This is the wrong heart and reason behind missions. In Philippians, Paul calls us to be like Christ–servants with a humble spirit. I challenge us all to examine our hearts and ensure that we aren’t heading out on a mission trip with the wrong motivations.
7. We must be learners
In Colors of the Wind, Pocahontas shows John Smith all about her way of life and opens up his eyes to a new way of viewing the world. When visiting another country, the native peoples know their own culture and if we will open up our minds and listen, it’s endless what we can learn.
8. People are people
One of the main themes in the story of Pocahontas is that we are all, on some level, exactly the same. No matter that we have different nationalities, languages, skin color or traditions – at our deepest level, we have the bond of being human. We all feel pain, heartache, happiness and joy. We all have compassion. We all are flawed. We need relationships.
No matter where we go in this beautiful and complex world, we must comprehend the fact that people are people – real, touchable people. It’s like when I try to imagine Noah or Moses, I sometimes forget that they aren’t fictional characters in a storybook. Noah was a real man, who had a difficult path set before him. He worked hard, was doubted by close friends, had dirt under his fingernails at the end of the day and felt the pain of being mocked for his belief in Christ.
This is the same dilemma we have when thinking of cultures and peoples very different from our own. This mental separation between a fabricated reality and the truthful reality isn’t healthy. We must break down those barriers in our minds and see people with open Christ-like eyes for exactly what they are: humans, and in need of a Savior.
Ultimately, if we go into missions with an open heart, an open mind, and a gracious, humble spirit, I believe the Lord can teach and bless us abundantly. Without those things, are our motivations really what they need to be?
What are some of your crucial “need to knows” when it comes to missions? Comment below and let me know!