Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Open Sore of the World

Dr. David Livingstone is probably the most famous missionary and explorer in African history. His last recorded written words were the following; "All I can add in my loneliness is, may Heaven's richest blessing come down on every one, American, English, or Turk, who will help to heal this open sore of the world." He used the term open sore of the world to describe the East African slave trade which was centered in Zanzibar and the Tanzanian coast and lasted many years after slavery was abolished in Europe and the United States. The slaves from this area were taken to other parts of Africa, the Middle-East, Asia, and the South Pacific. Livingstone's writings, when taken back to Europe by Henry Stanley were very influential in bringing about the end of this. Although it happened after his death.

I was not familiar with this quote before traveling to Tanzania this summer and the words open sore of the world have gripped me. One needs to do nothing more than turn on the world news for a few minutes to realize that this world still has many "open sores". These sores are in many places, I can find them a few hundred meters from my house in 5 points Birmingham. And when I think of this term I can't help but be concerned for Juarez, Mexico and the people, many who are friends of mine, suffering there due to the drug wars and crumbling infrastructure. But perhaps there is no place where this open sore is more obvious than in Africa; the place where Livingstone first made the observation almost 150 years ago.

Today the people are not being captured and sold into slavery. But many millions are still in bondage. Oppressed by extreme poverty, hunger, corrupt governments, global corporate exploitation, and perhaps the worst health epidemic in history, Africa is a glaring open sore. And many of its people are born with the weight of the world on their shoulders. As I write this another quote comes to mind that a friend shared with me a couple of years back. This one is by Henry Nouwen and it states that "God has chosen to reveal himself in a crucified humanity". This too may be more obvious in Africa than anywhere else. And so we must respond...but how?

I don't have the answer. The situation is too complex for my understanding. I am convinced that "volunteer tourism" and short term missions from the west are not the answer, although they may be a very small piece of it. I am also convinced that the answer is not going to come from an American, English,...or Turk for that matter (nothing against Turks, I have met some really cool ones). I believe that, just like the sores on my body, the open sores of the world must heal themselves. And like the sores on our bodies, things can be done to aid and expedite that process. But the healing comes from within. Africa must heal itself. And after visiting alone and seeing East Africa in a new and revealing way. I know that it can. Many Africans are in the process of bringing about that healing even as I write. And many more soon will be. I had long conversations with my friend Prudence in Dar es Salaam. He is beginning his fourth year of medical school and has a passion to help Tanzania's many street orphans. He also has very detailed plans to do so that impressed me very much. And I expect he will see them through, and I hope to help. I have also had conversations with my Kenyan friends Jack Ogutu (currently studying in Auburn) and John Kiarre who lives in Nairobi. They are committed to serving their brothers and sisters and their faith inspires me. I am optimistic about Africa's future. Not unlike Livingstone's slave trade, the current wounds can and will heal.

And by healing I do not mean that Africans live like Americans. That would be foolish and unsustainable. I mean that they have a quality of life and health, and availability of opportunity comparable to Americans. That can and should coexist in simplicity and sustainable living. So how do we treat the wounds to bring this about? The most simple answer, and the only one that my mind can grasp is this; six years ago, upon returning from an Auburn Wesley trip to Tanzania, a family of missionaries who had served in East Africa encouraged us to become advocates for Africa. In my case they were preaching to the choir but I am here to repeat their message. We must become advocates for Africa. And this can take on many forms. I do not know if I will ever return to Africa. I now have many friends there and hope to visit them again. And if there is a needed service that I can perform in person then I will gladly go do it. But without rushing off to a distant land we can still give prayers and support. And this means a lot more than sending a check to help some kids. We need to be intelligent and aware so that everything we do, every service we perform, is maximally effective. The challenges are too great and the road too long for us to act irresponsibly.

And I will leave it at that. And ask you to pray that God will show you how best to be an advocate for Africa, how best to love Christ as he is revealed in his crucified humanity. I am still figuring out my own way. But I know one thing. I will be a friend of Africa, its people, and I can easily do that for the rest of my life.

And, all I can add in my loneliness is this, may Heaven's richest blessing come down on everyone, and I do mean everyone, who will help to heal these open sores of the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment