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American Dirt


"American Dirt is a Grapes of Wrath for our times."
—Don Winslow
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Discuss American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins:
Should Missionaries Have Been Vilified?

Created: 02/08/20

Replies: 10

Posted Feb. 08, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
jenniferk

Join Date: 02/08/20

Posts: 5

Should Missionaries Have Been Vilified?

At one point in the book, Lydia connects with a friend of her husband's. He and his (American) wife are hosting teenagers from a church in Indiana who have taken a mission trip to Mexico. The wife is hesitant to help Lydia and Luca, as it could put the teens' life in danger. This evolves into a discussion, during which the wife is reminded that Jesus would help those in need, especially those who have been through what Lydia and Luca have been through. There is tension between Lydia and the wife throughout the remainder of their encounters.

This part of the book, albeit a small one, really, really bothered me. I felt the wife had every right to want to protect the lives of those kids. I would feel the same in that situation, and, if I were a mother of one of those kids, I would expect that my child would not be knowingly put in danger. Were they rich American kids who likely only had first world problems? Yes. But, does that mean that there lives aren't as valuable? It really irked me. I realize that some people in developing countries are quite cynical about the work of short term missionaries. I also think that there is validity to some of the arguments I have heard. But was it necessary to vilify the missionaries in this book?

Do you think this part of the book was a reflection of the author's disdain, or a reflection of how missionary work is perceived among those living in Mexico? Thanks for your thoughts... can't seem to let this go.


Posted Feb. 09, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 2143

RE: Should Missionaries Have Been Vilified?

Personally, I didn't read the scene that way.

To quote your wise words from another thread, "it's one story about one mother and her son who are entering the country illegally, seeking asylum. Is it representative of everyone from Mexico who immigrates or attempts to immigrate to the U.S.? Likely not."

In the same light, I don't believe that the author is intending to make blanket assumptions about any group, missionaries included, let alone vilify them.


Posted Feb. 09, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
melanieb

Join Date: 08/30/14

Posts: 180

RE: Should Missionaries Have Been Vilified?

I don’t think missionaries are vilified in this story. There is a thoughtful conversation in which Luca’s wife argues about the danger of transporting Lydia and her son and a what-would-Jesus do question that is ultimately resolved.


Posted Feb. 09, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
peggyt

Join Date: 08/10/17

Posts: 143

RE: Should Missionaries Have Been Vilified?

I can’t really know what the author thinks but fundamentalist religious groups are growing in Mexico and these religions have been brought to the country by missionaries so they are not rebuffed by everyone in Mexico.
Even so, it was probably not an unreasonable representation of the feelings of the wife of the pastor. Lydia and her son were a real life-threatening danger to anyone who tried to help them.


Posted Feb. 10, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
katherinep

Join Date: 07/16/14

Posts: 220

RE: Should Missionaries Have Been Vilified?

I didn't think that was wrong. She and her husband brought kids to a dangerous part of the world--you don't abandon someone else in such a situation. I've never understood parents who would allow their kids to go to North Korea, Mexico, the Dominican or other hotbeds no matter the reason. Don't get the whole missionary thing to such places and my heart does not bleed when some one of these misguided folks fall victim to the unrest they've entered by choice. You take a chance and sometimes you lose.


Posted Feb. 10, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
Andrea

Join Date: 08/31/18

Posts: 22

RE: Should Missionaries Have Been Vilified?

I, too, do not feel that missionaries were vilified as much as they were portrayed as superficial. Perhaps this book will prompt a discussion among them about rethinking their approach.


Posted Feb. 11, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
cathyoc

Join Date: 04/26/17

Posts: 98

RE: Should Missionaries Have Been Vilified?

I didnt think the missionaries were vilified, but Lydia was putting them in a very tough position. The cover of the missionaries made Lydia’s travel through the roadblocks possible, but it clearly put three bus loads of people in danger. As the adults responsible for the safety of numerous teenagers I would have had a difficult time with this decision. I have no problem with adults choosing difficult areas of the world to help, but I too find sending teenagers to known areas of unrest to be irresponsible.


Posted Feb. 25, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
acstrine

Join Date: 02/06/17

Posts: 211

RE: Should Missionaries Have Been Vilified?

I wonder if Jeanine Cummins researched the history of missionaries in Mexico in order to write this scene. It certainly hasn't been a happy one. After the Spanish forcefully converted the indigenous populations, they didn't even allow them to worship in the beautiful, gold filled cathedrals found in the plazas throughout Mexico. Everyone, but the Spanish, worshipped three or four blocks away from the main religious center, in small, dark storefronts.

While talking with the detective after Lydia's family's deaths, we learn that no-one will be investigated for the crime. Cartels operate with impunity across the board. How does two weeks work by children really improve the lives of Mexicans living with uncertainty and fear? If the missionaries helped install an irrigation system, the cartel might just charge more "tax" for families to take their crops to market on the roads through their territory. Or maybe they will take over then irrigated farms and begin growing more marijuana or poppies to increase drug production. How does a child teach a child who lives in fear to have hope and faith? How does a child comprehend hope and faith after witnessing a family massacre?

I don't think Carlos was vilifying the missionaries. I think he was making the point that THIS was REAL LIFE and an opportunity for the missionaries to see faith in action- -that in spite of the suffering and horrible things being done to them and around them- -Mexicans cared for one another and did everything they could to help one another. This is what the work of Jesus really looks like.

But also- -don't those parents read state reports and travel warnings??? I think it is highly unlikely that "kids" would be allowed to go alone on a mission to Mexico. Most youth groups I know go to places within the U.S. like Tennessee, Kentucky., and West Virginia. These kids were from Indiana; they could have done plenty in their own state. I think Carlos provided a powerful reminder. Helping, caring, ministering others is NOT about the selfie or checking a box on a college application.


Posted Mar. 05, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
gerrieb

Join Date: 09/03/19

Posts: 33

RE: Should Missionaries Have Been Vilified?

I did not feel the missionaries were vilified in the book and I agree with the other thoughtful posts on the this question. This was an example of what could be a very real situation and I also thought the insertion of the "what would Jesus do?" question was extremely relevant. It is a question everyone who espouses to be one of his followers should ask themselves every day regardless of the situation and certainly in our current treatment of immigrants. I find it quite disturbing that there seem to be so few if any, religious groups in my area condemning the horrible treatment of immigrants at the border. Most of us have seen the videos of children in cages, and babies being separated from their mothers. We know that some children have never been returned to their parents. When Lydia contemplates this it is too much for her to even bear. All people should be treated with charity and compassion. I agree with acstrine, I live in Indiana and I can state there are plenty of people in this state who need assistance with food, clothing and medical care. If a missionary group would like to step in and help there is a need. However, since there is a church on every corner I am not sure they would find many to convert to their faith. The situation Lydia and Luca were in was not just a fable or a tv script, it was a chance to put all the lessons of Christ into action. As acstrine states there were so any examples in the book of the Mexican people performing acts of kindness. Many of these acts could've brought them dangerous consequences and yet they continued to provide help. I agree this is what being a follower of Christ is really about, not a vacation and a photo op. which is what Carlos tried to emphasize.


Posted Mar. 06, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
bethanieg

Join Date: 03/06/20

Posts: 3

RE: Should Missionaries Have Been Vilified?

I didn’t see it as vilification. It was an important discussion before taking a dangerous step. I would not have made the same decision. The lives of the children on the mission were the responsibility of the religious organization that brought them there. They had the obligation to protect those children. The problem was presented as having only one solution, but there were probably others that were not explored in the book. No one asked the children’s parents for permission to risk their children’s lives. If it was my child on that bus who got killed as a result of that decision I would have been outraged and distraught.


Posted Mar. 18, 2020 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
beckyh

Join Date: 05/08/11

Posts: 92

RE: Should Missionaries Have Been Vilified?

I didn't think the missionaries were vilified. They were simply shown as humans with terrible options. There was NO right answer in that situation. There is a difference between putting YOUR life in danger for your faith and putting OTHER lives for your faith. The young were not asked what they thought.
Also, in other parts of the book, missionaries and others of faith are shown as altruistic and willing to suffer for their faith


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