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Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith

by D.L. Mayfield

Pub Date: Aug. 16th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-06-238880-3
Publisher: HarperOne

The author’s experiences working with refugees.

Ever since her childhood, Mayfield yearned to be a missionary, spreading the Christian Gospel to far-flung parts of the world. She ended up focusing her work more locally in the poor neighborhoods of Portland, Oregon, but she and her husband also took up residence among Somali Bantu refugees and spent years forging relationships and doing community work. In the process, Mayfield found herself questioning her own motives and dedication, or even ability, to truly live among the poor and marginalized. What could have been a meaningfully introspective tale is instead a tiresome repetition of the author’s thoughts and regrets. The book goes beyond being autobiographical and borders on self-obsession. Despite stories of refugees and others who have been through tremendous horrors and continue to struggle daily, everything returns to the author and her own personal trials. Even Mayfield’s husband and children are relegated to the far background, having no real part to play in the drama of her quest for “downward mobility.” The author’s sanctimonious self-loathing is often cloying: “In our new apartment, our new neighborhood, we were thrilled as only white people can be, gentrifiers in every sense of the word.” Throughout her story, she is satisfied to continue living the privileged life she despises and focusing on her own shortcomings as opposed to the problems of the people she is there to help: “I am not poor. I drink lattes during droughts, eat hamburgers during famines.” Mayfield does not present herself as a missionary in any traditional sense; the faith aspect of her work comes in a distant third after her roles as activist and social worker. In fact, it seems that the further the author moves from her roots as a missionary, the more comfortable she becomes as a white woman living in a neighborhood of color.

A limp testament to privileged self-discovery.