Africa, I Weep for You
By Wally Doerksen
When I hear stories like this I want to lie down and scream. I want to wail so loud that the people of Africa will hear me.
A journalist, writing for The Globe and Mail, recently wrote about some of the things she encountered while stationed in Johannesburg.
She encountered AIDS. One of every three or four people had AIDS. Almost every home had a person in a dark corner - lying on a mat - fighting the disease. Usually the fight was a silent one. If you did not know the person was there, no one would tell you about it. Many villages were without people in their 30’s and 40’s. In one place she was asked to look around her and say what she saw. She saw nothing unusual, but was told that what was unique was that nothing was planted in the fields. Farmers were all either dead or dying, or too sick to plant. The old people were either too busy looking after the sick and dying, or were simply too feeble to plant. And for quite some time there had been no one to teach the children how to plant - so the land lay idle. At one time, they told her, this area had been self sufficient in food production.
She encountered women who had been repeatedly and brutally gang raped. She told of one particular region where nine different armed groups were engaged in conflict. Each one had its own agenda and each seemed to take its turn controlling specific areas and villages. When she drove into the area on her motorbike and stopped in a village toward dusk one evening, she wondered how she would get women to tell her their stories. Just after dark there was a knock on her door. When she opened the door she found dozens of women assembled in the darkness outside, all with similar stories. They included repeated and brutal rape. Since there are no medical facilities in these regions, they had had to go about their daily activities as best they could without medical attention. This often included walking for miles to gather roots for food, hauling water or gathering firewood. Many had continuing problems with bleeding or prolapsed uteruses.
When I hear stories like this I want to lie down and scream. I want to wail so loud that the people of Africa will hear me! I want to beg someone to do something. But to whom will I go and what could they do? Sometimes we have a tendency in North America to think that God has blessed us because of our obedience and faithfulness. The flip side of such thinking then assumes that the people of Africa must have sinned grievously and are therefore reaping God’s judgment. I cannot stomach either of these thoughts. They smack of both arrogance and self-righteousness.
So here I am, trying to speak about social justice in Africa – thinking that it is a part of what I need to do as a Christian. I have a need to find at least some solutions to the social problems of that part of the world, even if they might only be partial solutions. But Africa is so big! And there are so many injustices in other continents as well, including our own, North America. What can I do?
Maybe my readers could help me grapple with some of the questions I have. How does God show his care for people so badly mistreated? How does he want us to be His hands and His feet? What is the responsibility of wealthy North Americans – more specifically us comfortable Mennonites – with respect to such injustices? We can not say we do not know about the problems, or that we have no resources to help facilitate at least some solutions, can we? If we do nothing – just keep on living as though no crisis exists – will we be included among those Jesus referred to when he said that…as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me? (Matthew 25:45) Can we leave these big problems to be dealt with by governments and superstars like Geldorf and Bono? Or can ordinary people like you and me make a difference?
Part of God’s message to the Church at Laodicea in Revelation 3:19 is, Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten… Sometimes we apply this verse to ourselves when we experience hard times. We might even wish in such times that God would love us less. I would say, however, that hard times – such as are being experienced in Africa – do not always reflect God’s love. His love is seen most profoundly in that He sent His son to die for us and that He accepts us – not on the basis of merit, but rather grace. It is too simplistic simply to suggest that Africa is being chastened for its sins.
I think God wants me to be moved to tears – to weep and to wail at injustice and to hurt for the poor and badly treated. But he also wants me to do something. He wants us all to do something. Perhaps we can help those locally whom we have previously overlooked. Reach out to dying persons in our communities, whether we know them or not. Be generous with our gifts to the poor and needy – even if there is no charitable receipt to be gained. Drive an extra mile. Go out of our way to do a good deed. Smile in a tense situation at the checkout counter, or simply be a less demanding consumer.
There are countless ways we can all do something. And collectively this adds up to something bigger than we can do by ourselves. As a community of faith, we must listen carefully to God’s Spirit and so find ourselves doing something bigger than any one of us could alone. We must tell our fears and our stories to the people around us. We must solicit them to help us work through tough issues like the pain of Africa.
But perhaps nothing will happen unless we learn how to weep for Africa.