When One Means More Than A Million or Doing What Counts (Here and) in Africa.
By Earl L. Mummert, ELCA Church Council Member.
Our fact finding group had just driven for what seemed like an eternity on dusty, dirt roads to get to their house. Julianus and his 10-year-old sister were standing at the doorstep of their mud walled dwelling in the middle of a huge banana plantation, waiting to greet us and their pastor. The older sister, aged 12 was still at school this day.
We had read in our pre-trip literature about the millions of orphans in Africa left by the ravages of HIV/AIDS which plagues the continent. The effects of this disease upon Africa were even more severe than the bubonic plague was upon Europe an era ago, and we were in the middle of it. This home visit about to happen, however, was our first of multiple face-to-face encounters with real people.
Julianus, aged 17, had assumed the responsibilities as head of his three- member nuclear family when his father and mother both had died within the past year from complications of HIV/AIDS. He had to drop out of school to provide for his two younger sisters so they could stay in school. Even primary education is not universally free throughout Africa. Julianus has no shoes. He has no mattress to sleep on. He sleeps on the ground.
After touring the house, the children took us into the fields of banana plants surrounding them to show us one of their two bell pepper gardens. Julianus, a natural born economist, a profession near and dear to my heart, had observed at the market in town that peppers yielded the best prices. A friend gave him seeds to start his nursery from which he gets his plants to set his garden. It is from this source of income that Julianus is able to keep his sisters in school. They live off the produce of the bananas for themselves.
We walked to other home sites scattered throughout, but not visible within, the plantation. The stories of these orphans living with uncles and neighbors and family friends are just as compelling and heart wrenching as that of Julianus and his sisters.
As we walked through the plantation, I began to think about the statistics, as contrasted to the people we were meeting, and wondered how in the world one could ever calculate them. Im an actuary and economist by profession, so statistics mean a lot to me. I would feel lost without them. In fact, I once observed that we are hugely driven in our American culture by the things we can count. Think about how addicted we are to growth, that more is better.
Lost in this maze of 12 feet tall banana plants, surrounded by families broken by this plague we call HIV/AIDS, I came to realize that maybe this story we call life is not about numbers, but about relationships, an art form that seems to be on the wane in our culture, but thriving in Africa as we observed it. Maybe one Julianus means more than 1,000,000 in a report.
I found the people of Africa to be extraordinarily friendly. I never felt threatened personally, even among the crowds of destitute where we had to stand out as the rich Americans. Seeing the children taking care of children, the interacting of pastors and family members literally sitting on the ground praying together, and social workers counseling their constituents demonstrated immeasurable love and hope. I found the people incredibly ingenious and efficient in their use of limited resources. Maybe survival is the mother of invention. These clearly were not the impressions of Africans cast upon me at age 15 when I read about the Dark Continent in my world cultures textbook.
So what lessons have I learned to pass along to anyone interested to learn about what it might mean for us tostand with Africa? Foremost, I must say that when you have come to know the people on the ground as we experienced them, you cannot walk away, but must stand with them the same as we would our own children in difficult circumstances.
I learned the difference between doing those things you can count and those things which count. I learned that Africans are no less resourceful than we are; in fact, they may be even more so out of necessity. I learned that we are not as efficient in use of resources as we like to think of ourselves being. I learned that I really am not the self-made person we like to imagine ourselves being in our culture. We live in community, too, nurtured by many, despite our worship of our independence enabled by our affluence. Might we have taken our freedom so far as to isolate ourselves and deny ourselves the richness of loving relationships?
In one part of the African culture among the Masai, ones health is viewed in the context of community. One cannot be healthy while living in broken relationships. HIV/AIDS is not just about the state of the body of the infected person as we might think of ones health in America, but includes the multiple of victims and the broken relationships caused by the disease. How many of us have said, if my spouse or child is not happy, Im not happy? Well, its this same thought that carries over into their entire concept of what health means to them. I think we can learn a valuable lesson here.
At the risk of oversimplification and being judgmental, which I dont intend, we have the capital and Africa has the faith and sense of community that we need to share with each other as separate cultures living in a global community. As the disparity in capital grows, so seemingly the disparity in faith and justice expands in our world. Lets hope God is more merciful than just for our sakes in America.
Economics is about maximizing efficiencies in the use of limited resources within the sphere of the group politic. If we continue to think of ourselves and of Africans as peoples living on distinct continents and in isolated economies, then, I believe we fail Gods plan. Might the economic impoverishment caused by HIV/AIDS in Africa be the catalyst needed for us to redefine our community, to act out our faith teachings, to make us give up our worship of economic growth, to share our material abundance with neighbors living in a global community under One God?
Our Judeo-Christian teachings are quite clear that we live in a world of sufficient resources. For Gods economics to work, we need to act upon that faith we know in our hearts and minds and profess with our lips. We have been called to love our neighbors and our neighbors live in Africa too.
Standing with Africa as individual members and as a church body will do as much for ourselves in reviving our sense of faith, wholeness, and well being as we will be doing for those whom we serve. Standing with Africa is not about our acting upon or for Africans. It is about our mutual transformation as we lean on one another and share our separate gifts. Having experienced firsthand the impoverishment and enrichment, the despair and the hope, the brokenness and the love, one of several of our personal commitments to Stand with Africa is a tithe of our tithes and offerings for the next three years. Might you accept the challenge to such a commitment as one portion of your response, as well? Let yourself feel good that you did what counts.
African Reflections 1 2
• AIDS Orphans Benefit Hike Along the Pacific Crest Trail
Rev. Chris Sanderson, a pastor for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is hiking the Pacific Trail (2,650 miles) to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Read his description of his mission and meet Chris at one of the tour stops to support his cause.
• “Stand With Africa: Banish Hunger.”
A new video that demonstrates how Stand With Africa works with
local organizations in East Africa to improve peoples’ lives.
• "The Jewels of Katosi"
In August 2002, LCMS World Relief Communications Manager Greg Koenig participated in a Lutheran World Relief study tour to Kenya and Uganda in conjunction with the inter-Lutheran Stand With Africa campaign.
" Picture This: Million Thanks
" Picture This: Street Children
" HUNGER IN AFRICA. Stand With Africa 2002
" 2002 Global facts about the HIV/AIDS epidemic
" A Stand With Africa Slide ShowHIV/AIDS in Africa
" "Braving Aids: Senegal's Way" Video
" "Introducing Stand With Africa" Video
" A Child's Poem About AID
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