Wednesday, January 26, 2011

America cannot fix Africa, but Americans can.

A year ago this month I was serving in Ethiopia as a visitor, learner, and teacher at a Christian mission and school in a small rural community. I served along with about 15 other students from my university, and our time there was no less than precious. The children we served and played with were beautiful, hilarious, mischievous, busy, and successful; I know that our time there empowered some children to take a glimpse at their potential future as leaders for their country and community.

One of our Ethiopian friends from that very community, who is now one of three students from that community attending our university, posted this video on facebook:

After I watched the video, my wheels began spinning, as they often do. I am thinking about how the United States in general interacts with African nations, about how Christians interact with African nations, about the things Obama said regarding interactions between the United States and African nations, and about the concerns of the African youth in the conference.

Many of the African youth are wary of trusting the United States and a potential partnership. This is understandable to me because the United States seems like it has a lot of potential for helping Africa but has not tapped into that potential. I have always thought the same thing living here. We have the potential to help so many problems in the world, protecting humanity and promoting economies. We have the potential to help the problems of our own nation, as well.

I generally refuse to engage in politics because I think they are too complicated (I could explain myself here, but it's probably best that you talk to me if you want to know more about this statement). I think that problems are best solved outside of government rule and support, outside of the complexities of political infrastructure and tradition. That being said, I think that Christian missions and humanitarian organizations (when executed well and effectively, of course--that's another discussion for another day) serve as a wonderful way for Americans to make a non-political positive impact on the issues in Africa. Being able to go over to African nations and cultures to work where they see the need and serve in ways they see beneficial is an amazing gift of peace and partnership that we can offer. The United States, as the president mentions, will always be looking out for its own interests as a nation, politically speaking, but if we get involved outside of political infrastructure it is possible to serve the interests of another nation without seeking to serve our own interests.

The president made another important point, though--the success of African nations is beneficial to the United States' interests because a blooming economy in Africa can bring a blooming economy in the United States (and the rest of the world, really). By making peaceful efforts to help African peoples, we are offering our peace as Americans and promoting the good image and intentions of our own country. African nations may be looking for the United States to declare an official, governmental partnership with their own countries, but as the president says at the end of the video, we can seek to empower the future leaders of African nations to step forward and see the impact they can make in their countries. The United States cannot fix Africa's problems, Africa must fix their own problems. The United States can stand beside African nations and see that they can be successful, but African people must rise up and meet the challenges of their own countries.

I feel honored that I was able to stand beside Ethiopians for one short month to enable and encourage some children to find strength and empowerment to lead their country in the future. I want to encourage more American Christians to invest (financially or temporally) in long-term African missions who are taking a grassroots approach in African nations to help them pursue their own interests for the sake of their own country. The American people are represented well in those efforts because it takes place outside of government infrastructure and funding; the true heart of the American people, specifically American Christians, and by association the Gospel, is being represented while Africa is being empowered. America cannot fix the problems in Africa, but Americans can. Europeans can, too. Any educated, moderately wealthy person can. In the same way, too, I believe the American government cannot fix America, but Americans as people personally giving of themselves to other people can fix America. It doesn't have to be about any nation's governmental reputation or interests. It can simply be about the interest of serving others for the sake of serving.

I believe that humility is something that God demonstrated in coming down in human form. He wanted to relate to us and show us in the most concrete way possible that he loves us. We see death as the ultimate end, so God died in order that we would be free from our worst end and stand everlasting in His love. He calls us to show the same humility to one another, bringing love in a concrete way, interceding for other humans in situations of worldly misfortune, in order that those people would experience that love and hopefully do the same for other people.

Future leader of Ethiopia.
Although this seems like it could be put into a humanistic context (ie-societies need selflessness to run smoothly, therefore we are only looking out for our own selfish interests anyway), I think that there doesn't have to be returned humility in order for godly humility to take place. After all, Jesus was mocked and killed by those He came to love. It is not a selfish or glamorous thing to love, but it is death to oneself for the purpose of promoting others. It really is a pretty backwards kind of love. People would think I was awfully crazy if I died just to show someone that I loved him or her. Why would I die simply to convince someone that I love that person? It seems like I could give up on loving that person in order to stay alive. True love is a message worth conveying, and dying to convey that message is exactly what God did for all humanity. The least we can do is relinquish our time living on earth for the good of others in hopes that our message of love is conveyed.

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