The Challenge of Africa

For the past several days, I have had the privilege of joining a group of students studying leadership in global perspectives.  They come from a variety of backgrounds – both nationally and vocationally. It’s been a wonderful experience thus far, and one that has challenged our comfort levels, our categories of understanding, and how we interact with our home contexts. So far, our time has been in Nairobi, Kenya, but we’ll be heading to Ethiopia soon.

One of the things we’ve done is spend time in a slum called Mathare. It’s not the biggest slum in Nairobi, but it is home to about 800,000 people. I’ve had previous experiences in slums here in Nairobi, in Dominican Republic, and in India (including the one on display in Slumdog Millionaire), so I was somewhat prepared for what I’d see. It’s pretty jarring, though – seeing children with little or no clothing, running and playing in littered streets (unpaved), right next to running streams of sewage.  It’s so difficult to reconcile the accident of birth that put me in the affluent West, and these little ones in the extreme poverty of sub-Saharan Africa.

With that said, it was encouraging to spend time with a ministry called Missions of Hope International. They have an amazing, holistic ministry that has made the Mathare Valley a better place. Children get medical care and schooling, parents get vocational training and business opportunities, and the surrounding communities get dignity and safety. There was a noticeable difference between this slum and others I’ve visited, in that there was a sense of hope in so many people.  That is due in large part to the work being done that isn’t just a handout, but a real investment in people that produces a sense of community.

We’ve also been honored to have some lectures by African theologians and practitioners. As I mentioned in a tweet/status update earlier today, “This trip has convinced me more than ever that Westerners must LISTEN & cede/share power: we have much to learn, Africa has much to teach.” It’s not just that Africans are capable of leading themselves, but they really do have so much leadership to offer the rest of the world. Yes, there are problems that need to be addressed, but it’s not as though the West has it’s act completely together. Our arrogant paternalism alone is a massive problem that has done widespread damage, on political, social, economic, environmental, and spiritual levels. I have been deeply challenged, encouraged, and honored to learn from my brothers and sisters here. Consistently, when our African teachers have mentioned the problems that the West has brought, they have very quickly followed those statements up with something like, “but we have created our own problems, and are responsible for tackling these issues . . . and we can do it.”

As the learning journey continues, I look forward to more time with our students and our guest lecturers. I just don’t know if my brain and soul will have the capacity to take too much more on. Lord, have mercy!

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