Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Where is God in Africa?

I watched the news of Darfur on NBC tonight and I wondered about God and Africa.

While in Kenya, I often saw women carrying huge bundles of wood on their backs, and I often thought of the words: There, but for the grace of God go I. But dare I say it is God's grace that gives me so much privilege and wealth as an American woman. I struggle when I think about God and Africa. Others have struggled as well. Here's the story of Charles Templeton.

Walking Away from Faith

In my book, Walking Away from Faith, I tell the story of two evangelists in chapter two: Billy Graham and Chuck Templeton. They worked together in early years and then went their separate ways--Chuck conducting youth campaigns that attracted thousands. But doubts about God plagued him all through his ministry. He struggled with many philosophical issues, but final straw was Africa:

For Chuck there had been no single issue that had led to his gradual loss of faith, but the problem of pain and evil troubled him more than any other. If there was a moment that separated his belief from his unbelief is was seeing a photo in Life magazine that showed an African woman with a dead baby in her arms, “looking up to heaven with the most forlorn expression.” As he saw the desperation in her eyes, he asked himself: “Is it possible to believe that there is a loving or caring Creator when all this woman needed was rain?”
[Tucker, Walking Away, 38]

The photo Chuck Templeton saw was that of a mother crying out to God. Here is a photo of a baby crying out to God? Where is God in this picture. I struggle with that question. Easy answers are just that. Babies cry out like this because of the FALL. Adam and Eve sinned and we all suffer. Easy answers. But why do Africans physically so much more than Americans. Has the sin of Adam infected Africa more than America?

Africa and Gender

When I was in Africa on different occasions, it often appeared to me that women did most of the work. When I suggested this to my American supervisor, he insisted such was not the case. "I saw four men hard at work this morning--lifting a heavy box spring and mattress--onto the back of a woman!" That was his clever humorous response. Now I know that there are Africa scholars who strongly dispute claims that African men don't do much work. To say that men fight and women work is too simplistic. Yet, news reports certainly show that. Or, more often the reports show men fighting and women fleeing. But the men are fighting the enemy, the argument goes. So, the wars continue.

But what if women were in charge? Women are far less concerned about wielding power and obtaining status than men are. Women are the keepers of the home, and in Africa their primary focus is to care for the family--to care for their shamba (garden, small farm)--to keep the children healthy.


Bruce Wilkinson, of The Prayer of Jabez fame is one in a long line of Western Christians who has sought to solve the problems of Africa.

His message about "God's Dream" led to the formation of Dream for Africa, an organization founded by Wilkinson. Wilkinson had planned to build a large orphanage in Swaziland, Africa, one which according to the Wall Street Journal article would have a bed-and-breakfast, game reserve, Bible college, golf course, industrial park and Disneyesque tourist destination. Wilkinson who has taught that believers can receive blessings from God by reciting The Prayer of Jabez (33 words from 1 Chronicles 4:20) had felt confident that his dream for Africa would become a reality.

In the 40-page "Dream for Africa" plan, Wilkinson sought a 99-year lease on the land and control of nearby game parks from the King Mswati of Swaziland. Wilkinson gave Mswati just five days to approve the plan, which was refused. Soon thereafter, Swazi newspapers published details of the "Dream for Africa" draft plan, which turned public opinion against Wilkinson. According to the Wall Street Journal article, when the Swazi king failed to meet with him again in what was perceived as a snub on behalf of the king, Wilkinson decided to depart, stating publicly that his job was done and that God wanted him to leave Africa, but he informed his inner circle that he was "done with Swaziland, done with Africa and done with Dream for Africa."

He simply walked away from Africa—some say in a huff.

More such thoughts as I continue

I will be posting here in the days to come--some personal thoughts about my times in Africa and some thoughts on God and how rich Americans ought to respond to news stories and more.