The Challenge of Africa
- Wednesday, September 20, 2006
A dying continent?
It seems that each week there is news of a new humanitarian crisis in
The tragedy in
Then there is the ongoing 20-year reign of kidnapping, rape, and murder in
Over and above the immediate loss of life, these atrocities have exacerbated the effects of drought, famine, disease and homelessness in a major swath of the continent. Unspeakably, over 8 million people face starvation because local officials withhold food aid for political leveraging.
These conditions have created a continent in which the average life expectancy is less than 50 years and where one in five children dies before the age of five. Of those children that do survive, 34 million are orphaned due to war, disease, and poverty and 42 million have no access to primary education.
With a mortality rate over twice the world average,
A long view needed
Granted, the compassion industry has provided some limited, short-term relief over the years but, as
In other words, the solution to
But even if every weak or corrupt African government were magically overturned and replaced by a democratic one, present conditions would largely persist without a concomitant uplifting of the African spirit--confidence in the knowledge that, as a creation of God, each person has meaning, purpose and dignity.
Here at home in our media-saturated culture, where the thorniest problem is solved in 30 minutes or less, the long-term resolve needed for Africa will be a significant challenge for those who have been content to write a $100 check for the latest world crisis.
One person who has studied the African situation and invested his efforts to address it is The Purpose-Driven Life author, Rick Warren.
Central to Rick Warren's strategy is the involvement of the local church. Pastor Warren understands that the solution to
The idea is to facilitate the move from a subsistence economy to a market-based economy, enabling the African people to manage and maintain their own infrastructure for spiritual, material and intellectual well-being.
A bishop's vision
I recently had the privilege of spending an afternoon with Tanzanian Bishop Philip Baji, along with several other local Christians. During the afternoon we had the opportunity to ask Bishop Bali about the challenges of his country.
Unlike many sub-Saharan nations,
With 58 parish churches, Bishop Baji's diocese operates several hospitals and clinics, two secondary schools, and one bible school. It is also involved in agro-forestry and nutrition improvement programs aimed at improving the health and economic status of the poor. In the near term, the diocese also has plans to open several new churches and support other dioceses in the region in the start up of an Anglican university.
In consideration of these bold, holistic initiatives I asked Bishop Bali what one thing would provide the greatest benefit to his countrymen. His answer: An income-generating enterprise that would enable the diocese to build needed facilities, as well as, maintain and repair existing ones.
You see, unlike churches and ministries in the developed world which are sustained by member contributions, churches in impoverished regions largely depend on support from church and parachurch organizations from outside their country.
Bishop Bali said that while outside support is essential to meet the current ministerial needs of his community, he wants the need for that support to diminish. Emphasizing the industrious and dedicated character of his countrymen, the Bishop said "We are a proud people. We don't want the carrot stick; we want the dignity of being self-sufficient."
A common vision
Common to the vision of Rick Warren and Bishop Bali is that Africa is not a vast region hopelessly held the orbit of
A small example of what is possible is in
Then there is Benita Singh and Ruth DeGolia, recent Yale graduates who are bringing the benefits of global entrepreneurship to another war-scarred country:
Why the church
Some may question the suitability of the local church for this daunting challenge, especially in the area of business acumen.
First off, the local church is uniquely positioned to generate change at the grass-roots level. Worldwide, there are an ample number of congregations so that every African church, village or community could be partnered with a church abroad.
Next, like the ambient culture, the church has members with a rich array of "tentmaking" talents, skills, and expertise. While many congregations lack some of the resources and experience needed by their African counterparts, they can network with other churches to fill the void.
Lastly, because of the Cultural Commission: to care for and enrich creation, and the Great Commandment: to love others, the church is the only organization with a history of long-term devotion to the least and the last. It is a quality that has not gone unnoticed, even by some of its critics.
Months after the Katrina disaster, U.K. Guardian columnist Roy Hattersley observed that nearly all of the unpleasant work in alleviating the continued suffering of victims was being performed by groups having a religious association. Hattersley commented, "Notable by their absence are teams from rationalist societies, free thinkers' clubs and atheists' associations--the sort of people who not only scoff at religion's intellectual absurdity but also regard it as a positive force for evil."
After wondering why his non-Christian comrades did not respond more christianly, Hattersley went on to say,
"The only possible conclusion is that faith comes with a packet of moral imperatives that, while they do not condition the attitude of all believers, influence enough of them to make them morally superior to atheists like me."
A Purpose-Driven Nation? Alan Wolfe, Wall Street Journal
Purpose Driven in Rwanda, Timothy Morgan, Christianity Today
Faith does breed charity, Roy Hattersley, UK Guardian
The World Factbook--Tanzania,
Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee, homepage
African Orphans, homepage
Missionaries Of Africa, homepage
View the most recent entries on Regis' blog.
Regis Nicoll publishes a free weekly commentary to stimulate thought on current issues from a Christian perspective. To be placed on this free e-mail distribution list, e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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