What: Savior Complex
Type: 3 Part Documentary Series
On: HBO Max
Worth Watching: YES. Complex and nuanced it brings up a lot to think about and discuss about Missions, Christians, and their victims.
Quick Take: If your god tells you to give medical care to children – maybe your god is saying, “go to college.”
A friend of mine who works in IT once told me, “The problem isn’t the old lady who says ‘I don’t know anything about computers.’ The problem is the young person who THINKS they know about computers, gets into the programming and messes everything up.”
Never was that more true than the specific case of Renee Bach, and the larger issue of Christian mission work across the globe. A white, privileged, 19 year old homeschooled girl with no formal medical training opens a church funded medical clinic in Uganda and acts as a nurse, doctor, and savior. What could go wrong? 105 dead children. (Yes, most of them would have died anyway, but Bach’s actions added needless suffering to the process).
The documentary focuses on both sides of Bach’s rise and fall in a balanced way, which must have been hard considering the facts. It doesn’t say “Renee was a bad person.” It shows Renee as a young person with a good heart who got lost in the twin towers of ignorance and arrogance while riding the magical thinking school bus.
There’s been controversy about allowing Bach to share her side of the story, which comes off as wildly self-pitying and revealing. At one point, she tries to read a critique and cannot even pronounce the word “colonialism” nor does she know what it means. She quips, “Maybe I’ll look it up. Later.” (I’m guessing she never did).
So a white girl going to another nation taking her religion and her way of helping them without consultation or respect for them can’t explain colonialism but you know what she can do? Put in IV’s. Give blood transfusions. Diagnose diseases. Prescribe, dose, and administer medications she can’t even pronounce. Why? Because God. And money. God’s money.
While Bach cries about the unfairness of her expulsion from Uganda, the real unfairness is to the mothers of dead children in Uganda, the people of Uganda, and the many organizations who carefully, intelligently work WITH and support indigenous efforts with cultural competence and dignity.
There’s a barrel of blame to go around: The American church culture that glorifies mission workers while dehumanizing and infantilizing nations and communities without asking hard and important questions. The “No White Savior” group – which also had a good heart and bad practices – who is so desperate to shine a light on the damage they inflate the truth into a lie to get enough “clicks” to make a difference. The failure of people giving money to this organization based on heart-tugging photo ops to investigate exactly what their money was going toward.
In all the carnage, there are two amazing people that inspire and are absolutely worth watching. The young nurse (with an actual license and education) who shows up to help and says “WHOA… This is wrong, wrong, wrong.” and the Ugandan lawyer who has such clarity, and power to separate the story from the fact, focus on the victims, and work solely for them – not herself, not fame, not anything else.
The only thing that bothered me was the one question no one ever seems to ask Renee. – not her church, not her parents, not her funders, not the people at the clinic, and not the documentarians.
Why didn’t you just go to school and get an education to properly do the work God called you to do?
If her church can pay for her to pretend to be a medical person, I’m pretty sure they could have paid for her to go to nursing school. But that’s not as blog-worthy or heroic, is it? Maybe the lesson for Christians is – we need scholarships before mission trips.
Savior Complex shows a story with no easy answers and should be talked about in churches as they consider both the help and the damage their “good hearts” can do. Watch, talk, and explore.