Saturday, December 8

Thinking of Africa

I never gave much thought to Africa until Bi ("bee" aka Robin) read "Cry, the Beloved Country" in high school. I devoured this beloved book. Next she handed me "Things Fall Apart". The first novel deftly unmasked post-colonial Apartheid in the 1940's, the second was brutally honest about ageless tribal conflicts that tore apart Africa's native sons and daughters setting the stage for sweeping European colonialism. We were prepared for Bi's announcement years later that she was undergoing an alarming array of gruesome immunizations and finally going to Africa.

Fulfilling a dream was bitter-sweet: the state language of Mozambique is Portuguese. Robin's mission to Brazil had prepared her to communicate on one level ~ she didn't anticipate how hearts would speak on another. When she came home after repairing water pumps, building shelters and serving in 3 or 4 different AIDS orphanages - if she could have she would have brought home Vincente (having inquired about the adoption process) - a little 2 year old who totally captured her heart and soul. I think she mourned him for a long time.

The corruption and degradation witnessed was mind-boggling. The population is so decimated by AIDS that many villages only have scant numbers of adults (or nearly adults) and all of them have hordes of orphaned, hungry children. A cultural adaptation to this phenomenon is illustrated by the children calling any female who is willing to help take care of them "tia", or "Auntie". Some of these care-giver angels are only teenagers themselves. Another evil reality looms darkly; eventually these same young women must venture out of the dubious safety of their village to supplement meager home gardens and milking goats by walking to the nearest town market. Scavenging for firewood closer to home can be equally hazardous; always the threat of violent rape upon any unaccompanied female is a cruel companion to the tragedy that is abject poverty and plague in a land that is literally the richest on earth. The generous cycle of fatherless AIDS babies is assured a place at the table of want.

Today on CNN I saw part of a documentary entitled, "Living With Corruption" about similar issues which oppress Kenya. The main corruption focused on by the report was bribery. For a little money, virtually anyone could present a false petition as a non-profit charity and receive their documents outside of the officially recognized 3 month process in only 3 days - no questions asked. They are then eligible for internationally sponsored relief monies ~ tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars ~ of which there is no accounting for.

Africa, however, is not the only continent beset by the stranglehold of corruption. As missionaries in foreign countries, three of our children have been tutored first hand in that nasty business. Bi was disgusted by arrogant, self-important public and ecclesiastical officials in both Mexico and Brazil who turned a blind eye to crime and injustice for a few pesos. James watched as people had to pay everyone from the Greek Orthodox priest to the man in a bread line that ran out of bread in Ukraine. Leiland saw the Mexican government brutishly betray her own citizens ravaged by a major, killing flood simply by officially declaring the disaster in ridiculously diminished terms to save herself the inconvenience of relief funds and re-building culpability.

When corruption pervades every single aspect of the social structure, there is no way to excise it for the cancer that it is. It is like an ill patient advancing to the fatal stage as multiple vital organs begin shutting-down. Where's the Doctor?

Now more than ever in the history of the world, good people everywhere feel compassion and charity and frequently respond to need around the globe. Some relief organizations are more successful than others in achieving a high level of efficiency; they have avoided CEO’s remodeling private mansions and can actually distribute the goods they deliver. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints works quickly and quietly within select international relief agencies – including a Muslim agency, to get food, blankets, medicine and equipment where it needs to go in a hostile environment.

There are also many brilliant acts of goodness and enormous bravery sparkling within the darkness of these sinking societies. Men and women who, like the widow of Zarephath, give and give again on faith to others when there is so desperately little to give – or who speak up for justice when doing so is a death-wish. There are impoverished men who never give up trying to provide for their wife and children, and who do not abandon them but find motivation each day to do the honorable thing – and mothers, who once abandoned or widowed, give their all to protecting and caring for their children in the midst of inhuman conditions. I think the prayers of these oppressed in whatever language and addressed to whatever deity in name pierce the Great Heart of Heaven.

It doesn’t sound intellectual, and sociologists would roll their eyes along with human rights advocates and political junkies...but isn’t God the great triage answer? And beyond stopping the bleeding – He alone can HEAL.

I don’t know how the suffering in the jewel that is Africa can finally stop; except as the hearts of men experience a real change. If they knew they were part of a divine heritage, if they understood their countrymen were also their brothers, if they weren’t “past feeling” so that chopping off hands and arms and rape and robbery and murder didn’t please them, if destroying others was abhorrent instead – there would be no support for the corruption cycle that currently enslaves. It would simply ‘fall apart’.

That day of justice for all the world will come. I know it will. As much as we feel helpless to really make a difference in the world condition and as much as we hope for success and happiness in our own families, we DO make a difference! There are little miracles all around us every day that point toward the culminating powers of good and evil facing off at long last – and there’s a clear winner in that story.

The Jehovah Witness lady that visits regularly is getting frustrated with me. She seems confused when I express hope. The Bible verse selected more often is to show me that God will have His vengeance on the wicked. She does not share my observations of the rising good in the world, but seems to be in a ‘lock and load’ mode of ‘us’ against ‘them’. In spite of my cheerful alliance with her about the goodness of our Lord, I think I am one of ‘them’. I wonder if she has ever thought about Africa.

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