A few weeks ago, Claire and I sat on the dusty clay steps of a congregation in Chipata, Zambia chatting with new friends like it was our own front porch. We were lounging in the bright sunlight and the cool midday breeze savoring our first few tastes of “Fall” like a spiced pumpkin latte. Flanked by several new TEEZ Tutors with a few more standing at the foot of the stairs, we discussed the international differences in weather seasons, church cultures, food tastes, sports preferences, farming cycles, and the exorbitant price tag of education. For the entire duration of a 10 to 15 minute conversation, one of our new friends and TEEZ Tutors held a cellphone a few feet from our faces. Every few seconds, one could hear the cliché, computerized sound of a camera shutter snapping closed. So frequent did it sound, that it seemed the camera ticked the minutes away like the second hand on a giant grandfather clock.
At first it was flattering, then it was humorous, then it was annoying, finally it was furiously dehumanizing.
I knew this man and he knew me. We had known each other for several days. Our friends had previously asked permission to take our photographs and to take photographs with us. It is not uncommon for students to request for individual photographs to be taken using cellphones to which we always agree. Nor is it uncommon for people to take candid shots of us using cellphones, which amuses us.
I knew what he was doing. He was taking pictures. I had an idea about why he was taking the pictures. He had good motives. He wanted to show the pictures to his friends and tell them about the wonderful people he met. The muzungus from America, a legendary place were cars are cheap and computers are as numerous as television sets, where minimum wage is 1000% of usual Zambian pay. He wanted to show them what we look like, what we wear, how we do our hair, how the man doesn’t shave, the different shades of muzungu skin, the way Claire’s skin burns red in the sunlight, how her eyes squint when she laughs, how they eat nshima with their hands like Zambians, how they wear chitenge sometimes, how they open coke bottles with pocketknives, etc. He wanted to have something to point to when he talked about the experience. He wanted pictures, because his friends and church members and family could not experience the training and could not imagine these foreign, alien people he met or the ways they lived. He wanted pictures to remember.
He wanted pictures for all the same reasons I want pictures.
I’m not just guessing at these reasons. He expressed some of them to me in typical Zambian shorthand. Additionally, the same day, another Zambian produced a padded envelope marked German AirMail chalk full of photographs. He spent nearly an hour telling me about the German agricultural guests he hosted at his farm. He spent time telling me all about them, recounting every possible detail in exacting fashion, what they wore, their accent, what foods the liked and didn’t like, how they reacted to his farm, how many kids they each had, etc. I was surprised by the uncharacteristically detailed description from a Zambian, because Zambians are usually so reserved with information. (Zambians will answer your questions about home, but rarely do they volunteer personal details unprovoked.) He told me more information about these two gringos than he did about his own wife – not because he doesn’t love his wife, but because the Muzungus were something extraordinary, something new, alien, foreign, generous, and inspirational.
Still, after the endless minutes clicked by with the electronic shutter sounds, I could not help but feel like a spectacle. I didn’t feel like a human being, a friend, a brother, a colleague – I felt like an alien, an attraction, a novelty, and an oddity. Even this person, who knew my name and had permission to take my photograph, made me feel like a spectacle. I wanted to scream, “I’m just like you. I’m a human being, not a circus animal, not a impala on a game drive.” As the camera clicked away, I felt like an old Polaroid photo, except my personal identity faded as the picture of an anonymous, largely symbolic muzungu developed. The things, which made the photograph pleasing, important, and noteworthy, had little to do with the specifics of my person, my personality, or my relationships, and more to do with novelty, foreignness, and fascination.
As I sat there, I continued to remind myself of his good intentions. That he meant no harm. That he even meant to honor me with the pictures. That he knew me to some extent.
It was difficult, but it was an answered prayer.
Almost daily for 7 months, Claire and I struggle with the ethical implications of pictures. We almost daily ask questions about which photographs it is “ok” to snap, to publish, or to keep. “Living in Africa” (as most Americans would say), Claire and I see countless things, both beautiful, strange, and disheartening, that beg to be photographed. Whether it be beautiful children staring wide-eyed at two 6ft tall white people, women carrying 50kg bags of mealie-meal (ground maize) on their heads, or houses hand-fashioned from the red clay on which they sit, pictures seem to surround us.
Still, we understand that our cameras can be used as a weapon to trivialize and be-spectacle. In conversations with friends here in Zambia, I’ve heard more than a few people complain about the ways that tourists wield their cameras, which pictures they take, and how they then use those pictures to represent Zambia. As one friend said, “These Americans come with their cameras and the go to the deep bush – I mean the very deep, deep bush, the very rural areas. Then they snap pictures of these really poor people from their 4x4s. Then they go back and show off their pictures OF ZAMBIA alongside the impala and hippos.” The offense in his face and the undertones of his speech clearly communicated that he felt Zambians were reduced to the level of attractions on urban and rural game drives.
He is not the only one criticizing the ways tourists, mission agencies, NGOs, short-term missionaries, and long term mission coworkers use cameras. Countless activists, scholars, and photographers now lament “poverty pornography,” a term applied to photographs of generic men, women, and children used to symbolize poverty and evoke emotions. We all know the pictures of babies with distended bellies, women seated on reed mats in front of grass huts, people scavenging in city dumps, slum towns as far as the eyes can see, militia soldiers with AKs on top of retrofitted pick-up trucks, individuals looking wide eyed at this gringo they’ve never met pointing a camera, etc. These kinds of photographs have their prescribed forms for each respective region of the world – those pictures you just have to take.
Most of this pressure towards photographs is externally motivated by our cultural conceptions of beauty, photogenics, by the stereotypes that dictate what is photo-worthy and what is not, by the culturally alien, and by our overwhelming obsession with visual images. We are told which photographs to take by our culture, our magazines, our blogs, and our expectations, all of which shape and reinforce one another. Just think for a second about the differences between how, when, what, and who I photograph in your hometown and while traveling in a foreign country – especially a “developing country.”
Perhaps more fundamental to our uncritical use of cameras is our obsession with visual images. We are no longer content or skilled with the artful use of language and stories. We complain about verbal presentations that brilliantly, vividly describe personal experiences but provide no pictures, when we are stupidly satisfied by less skillful presentation that employs a slideshow of generic, predictable, and even Google-generated photographs of “Africa,” “village,” “African children,” and “women with a pot on her head.” This is true to the point that we care less and less who took the photo and who was photographed so long as there are photos for us to look at. Just like sexual pornography, the particulars of the individuals involved are eclipsed by the viewer’s experience of the photograph.
This is all incredibly complex and ethically ambiguous. There is no easy way to prescribe which photographs are ethical to take and which dehumanize, spectaclize, be-spectacle, trivialize, and render people anonymous; and I’m afraid that most of our photos exist somewhere in the twilight of the two. For this reason and with this fear, Claire and I have been praying for months that the Holy Spirit would guide us in our selection of photographs and keep us from using our cameras as weapons. While waiting for the direction of the Spirit, we simply adopted the philosophy “better safe than sorry.” So we resolved to try and live by a simple rule: Don’t photograph people you don’t know, unless explicitly asked by an individual.
Sitting there on those pan brick clay steps with a camera in my face for the first time in a long time I felt like a photographic spectacle. I felt like an anonymous individual only noteworthy because of my skin color, the place of my birth and the culture I inherited, AND YET my brother had followed every single prescribed protocol for conscientious photographs.
It was an uncomfortable answered prayer and for it, I am grateful, even if I return with fewer praiseworthy photographs and maybe a few more real relationships.
Sometimes we volunteer for tasks. Sometimes we are volunTOLD.
In the first we tell the authorities what task we will do. In the second, the authorities tell us which tasks we will do. Usually this happens, when we ask for volunteers and none are forthcoming, so we volunTELL people to do the tasks no one volunteered to do.
This can be done well, and this can be done poorly. It is done poorly when I volunteer people who are unwilling and incapable of completing the tasks, and who will ultimately reject both the task and me.
Last week, we traveled 8 hours to Mumbwa, Zambia to lead a TEEZ Tutor Training at Mumbwa Congregation of the Reformed Church in Zambia (RCZ). Mumbwa is a surprisingly large and busy town three hours west of Lusaka, Zambia. Entering Mumbwa, an enormous, decorative spire adorning the local mosque rises up to greet you. If beautiful buildings win souls, the mosque has a leg up – thank God that buildings cannot communicate the gospel articulately enough to win souls. Parked at a fuel station across from the mosque, we were greeted by a handsome, young man named, “Mwanza.” This man took us to a hot plate of food, a hot shower, and a warm bed. This man, unlike that building, is capable of conversation, and conversation is the only way the gospel can be communicated articulately.
The next day we arrived at a small, whitewashed sanctuary, which inhabited an eighth of a plot so dusty that even the plants stood shrouded in orange garb. As our driver pulled the 4x4 Toyota van, which we rented from the Anglican Church, up to the plot, it was immediately obvious that vehicles do not regularly patron this congregation. In fact, right now, it doesn’t look like anyone has arrived at this congregation by any means – no cars, no bikes, no pedestrians.
It is not like people RSVP to these functions, nor does our 9AM start time mean 9AM. So we folded ourselves out of the backseat of our van and started conversation with the pastor and his wife, who accompanied us. Standing there in the early morning sun, with flecks of dust sparkling around us like Super Bowl confetti, we chatted about ministry, Mumbwa, and marriage. Rev. Mwanza and his wife married the weekend before us in 2010, but beat us by two years to children. The Mumbwa congregation for the RCZ, is one of its western most congregations, and has recently grown tenfold from 30 members to 300. Churches in Zambia are surprisingly, generally tribal, which stems from the ways the early missionaries spread themselves across the country. Thus, regardless of the local languages, RCZ congregations almost always worship in ChiNjange, the language of the Chichewa peoples, who originate in Eastern Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique.
After a half hour of chatting, a few folks on foot and on bicycles arrive, and in polite Zambian fashion, greet everyone individually. After we self-segregate into men and women, the first male participant looks at me and asks, “So what exactly is this training all about?”
“Well, what were you told the training was about?”
“The pastor just called me yesterday and told me to be here this morning for a workshop, and that it was an emergency.”
“So you just came? without even knowing what the workshop was about?”
“Yes sir. Abusa (pastor) said it was an emergency.”
That man, my friends, was volunTOLD. Still it worked well because the pastor told folks who were faithful, available, and teachable (F.A.T.).
After another hour of chewing the fat and wishing we had a front porch with rocking chairs and a gallon of sweet tea (sorry New Yorkers), the TEEZ Training Manager, Rev. Banda, indicated that we could start our training. Once again we’ll attempt a 4-day training in 2 days; knuckles crack as we give each other our best superhero smiles. When all was said and done, almost 30 people had arrived to the training, from 3 different churches, many of whom were volunTOLD to be there, yet we sat and learned and laughed together.
First order of business, prayer.
Then, introduction and registration with Rev. Banda.
Third, identify a translator.
Identifying a translator is a very necessary step for Claire and me to communicate effectively – unfortunate because I wish I knew the languages well enough myself. Usually, this step takes some coaxing, since not many people jump at the opportunity to do one of the most mentally taxing tasks around, simultaneous translation, and no one wants to be “that guy” – the one student arrogant enough to teach in a foreign language instead of taking notes like the rest of the class. This week, it was easy.
The RCZ pastor looked at another well-dressed gentleman in a turtleneck and said, “I think you can do it.” volunTOLD.
Sure enough, the man stood up casually and assumed a position in front of the group. Turns out he is another pastor of a local, independent church down the road and a good friend of Abusa Mwanza – still he like all good pastors, had all the same characteristics: faithful, available, and teachable (F.A.T.).
Over the next two days, we used a personal best, 3 translators, who dramalessly transitioned into and out of the role. When our original translator was called away on church business, another young man nonchalantly whispered into his ear, and then assumed his position, as the pastor walked out the door in the middle of the lesson. After a break we returned to our training, this time aided by yet another young man brilliantly articulate and blind from birth. Each of these men were to some degree or another volunTOLD, and yet each gave themselves fully to the task, attempting to translate our American English into the ChiNjange thought-world, laughing at themselves and each other when they failed.
On the last day, we administered our usual test, and all of the students freaked like bats being assaulted by Rachmaninoff and searchlights. After much work calming fears, we distributed printed tests to those students capable of reading English, and I began the tedious and intimidating task of verbal examinations. I began with John, who while fluent in English and numerous Zambian languages, required an oral exam due to his blindness. The test was a breeze for John, who is currently making arrangements to enter the theological college next year. After finishing the test, he stood to leave, but I needed his help.
“John, you’ve done very well. Would you help me administer oral exams to a few other people, since I don’t understand Chichewa very well?”
Once again, he was volunTOLD, but he accepted readily and sat with me for an hour translating question after answer after question, until each student was examined in an appropriate format. He once again proved faithful, available, and teachable (F.A.T.), while showing how vital those traits are to leaders in ministry.
Having finished the examinations and our closing formalities, we assembled for our usual group photo. After said photo, my wife complimented a woman’s, Florence’s, chitenge (chitenge is the traditional fabric worn by all Zambian women, all the time, everywhere). Without knowing that, I walked by a few minutes later and passed on my wife’s compliment to the same lady, since Claire had mentioned the chitenge earlier in the day.
“Really? She likes it?”
“Well maybe I’ll just give it to her.”
“Don’t do that, cause then I’ll have nothing to give her,” I said as we laughed and parted.
Two seconds later I heard laughing behind me and I turned to see my wife wrapped in this woman’s chitenge posing for a picture. Claire was embarrassed but everyone else was thoroughly entertained. You see what had happened was, in Zambia complimenting someone’s clothing is a lot like volunTELLING them to give it to you. I forget this often, and even when I remember it, I can usually find ways to compliment without asking for that thing. But not this time. Oops.
Thirty minutes later, I too was wrapped in a chitenge fabric from a different woman, Patricia. She wasn’t volunTOLD, not by me anyways, but she ordered me to have a shirt made from the material. So I guess in the end, we all got volunTOLD a few times in Mumbwa, and so we all had to be faithful, available, and teachable.
We had our first visit to Zambia's Luapula province last week. It is the Heartland of the Bemba tribe and home of a London Mission Society, mission station that was started in the late 1800's. The place is rich in history, Christian ministries, natural beauty, friendly folks, witchcraft, and Mosquitos.
Our ride to Luapula was gorgeous, with bodies of water along the way or beautiful expansive land occupied only by flowers and trees. As we got closer to Mbereshi, we had to swerve to avoid hitting the crowds of people that littered the Tarmac. That road has more foot traffic than motorcars, I am sure. That's probably why it is one of the best roads we've been on in a while, free of potholes and ditches big enough to park your car in. Legend has it that the people stay on the road so much because a former president, Kenneth Kaunda, told them they had to be careful and protect the road from their Congolese neighbors who might try to steal it.
We received a warm welcome from the pastor in Mbereshi, Rev. Chongwe, who had lodging and supper prepared for us even though we arrived after 9pm. The next morning, we went to the church where we held the training. I am a sucker for intricate architecture, and this church was a piece of art! Apparently, it was the second building that the early mission workers and locals built. The first building was a school for the community children. Over the week, we were amazed at the impact those early missionaries had on the Mbereshi community - the schools that still remained, the legacy of the early leaders, the Bible that was translated into Bemba.
I have a feeling that some of the folks we trained in Mbereshi last week could be just as impactful. Our students were headmasters, pharmacists, teachers, mothers of Olympians, bankers, and nurses. They had an eagerness and willingness to learn, so much so, that we had to create a special course for them since most had already completed the Tutors' Course and Refresher Course that we generally offer. At the pastor's request, we focused on preaching, evangelism, leadership, and counseling. A year ago, when I received my Marriage and Family Therapy license, I never fathomed I would be standing in a classroom teaching people the basics of counseling. It was great to see folks learning and growing through the exercises and lessons we covered. I pray they take what they learned last week and serve their communities and churches well.
Territorialism is one of the biggest temptations for congregations and pastors. Territorialism tempts us to believe that the congregation just down the road is intercepting visitors that were on their way to our worship service, or even worse that the congregation is intentionally courting members of our congregation. Territorialism slowly trains us to view other Christian communities, including those of the same denomination, as competition rather than co-laborers. Territorialism focuses our attention on comparison rather than celebration.
Territorialism is rampant and it is deadly.
Last week, when we arrived for the TEEZ Tutors’ Training outside Chipata, Zambia, I witnessed a courageous act of cooperation. Everything appeared to follow the status quo. We arrived to beautiful, cross-shaped, sanctuary sitting on a hill, overlooking miles of low-lying farmland. Built from the same red-clay on which it sat, the building matched hundreds of others in Zambia, but it held a few surprises.
As we went around the room for introductions, giving the standard Zambian introductions of name, church, positions held, marital status, and number of children, a young man about my age stood up and said, “I am Sinkala Amos. I’m from the Divine Apostles’ Ministry. I am an intercessor. I’m single.” He sat down immediately, resuming the silence with which he stood.
“Divine Apostles’ Ministry?” questioned the TEEZ Training Manager, Rev. Banda.
“Ee,” Sinkala nodded politely. (Ee, pronounced ay-ay with a scoop of pitch in the middle, is the word for yes in Chichewa).
“Well, that’s great!” replied Banda with enthusiasm nearing that of Tony the Tiger. “You are most welcome.”
Next, another man, probably 45-50 years old, stood up in turn and said, “My names are Banda Samson Chisonda. I congregate with the Pentecostal Assemblies of God. I am married with 5 children – 3 girls and 2 sons.”
“Well, Pentecostal Assemblies of God? That’s great. You are most welcome. Neither of your churches are Member Churches but you are most welcome, and we hope you will be pioneers for your churches,” said Rev. Banda earnestly.
We finished introductions. Every other person was a full, communicant member of the Reformed Church in Zambia. I couldn’t help but wonder, “How in the world did these two men get here? How did they know about this training?” To be honest, I first assumed they heard about the training workshop through the grapevine, and like many Zambians, assumed that a workshop run by a Christian NGO would include gifts of good food, per diems, and maybe even fancy badges – NGOs and Aid projects have a well-intentioned but devastating history of providing financial incentives to people attending workshops, and in a country where education is a luxury, workshop certificates carry the approximate weight of G.E.D.s and associates degrees.
That was not a charitable assumption. Nor was it correct. I repent.
Later that day, I sat with the pastor of the host congregation, Reverend Simotonda, who organized the training. “There are two folks from Pentecostal churches in the training,” I commented with more than a hint of wonder and the typical trailing inflection, which in the United States indicates that I’m asking a question without asking a question.
“Ee,” he said simply, not looking up from the fresh, raw peanuts we were eating.
Unsatisfied, I tried a more direct, indirect approach, “I wonder how they heard about the training.”
“That’s cause I invited all the congregations around to come to the workshop. I thought more would come from other churches, and especially more from those churches, since I know their pastors.”
I was astounded. I almost blurted out, “YOU INVITED THE PENTECOSTALS?!” I mean, it is uncommon enough for a host congregation to invite members from any one of the other 9 TEEZ Member Churches! Just one month ago I was elated to find members of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) at a training hosted by a United Church in Zambia (UCZ) congregation. Now, I walk into a training at an RCZ church and find Pentecostals!! Pentecostals in an RCZ church – didn’t the RCZ split years ago over simultaneous mass prayer, and now the church that split over multiple people praying out loud at the same time, has invited the Pentecostals to a training.
AND the Pentecostals came.
What brave men.
First, Rev. Simotonda rejected the temptation to territorialism. He approached other congregations in his backyard to encourage them, build them up, and equip them to continue reaching their community – a move that he firmly believes will help them make more and better disciples. He chose to cooperate and encourage rather than compete with other congregations in his neighborhood. Moreover, he invited the very churches perceived by most as the biggest threats to his congregation’s success and growth. He didn’t argue credentials, call stories, education, or spiritual pedigrees with them, he invited them. That is bravery. That is caring more about the Kingdom of God than his own small outpost. That is a man committed to seeing the Kingdom grow, even if his kingdom and his renown diminish. That is a man who cares more about The Church than “his church.” That is a man whose allegiance lies more with Jesus than with any particular denomination.
Then, those other Pentecostal pastors actually advertised a workshop happening at another church. They actually encouraged people to attend and learn from other churches and other pastors. I can hear the Devil whisper, “What happens if they like the RCZ pastor more than you?” Still, they didn’t point to the shortfalls of the RCZ or this pastor in particular, they pointed to strengths, from which they might learn. That is bravery. It’s like a restaurant owner endorsing and advertising for a promotion at the joint down the street.
Finally, those two brave men, one from each church, actually showed up. They walked up that steep hill, rejecting temptation with every step – the temptation to avoid the awkward interactions and explanations and to escape the certain judgment of a mainline congregation. They made that mentally laborious journey, and they did it alone. They showed up, not weary like a reconnaissance mission, but ready to learn. 95% of life is just showing up.
I am humbled by their bravery.
I pray that we all might be so humble and brave. I’m so sick of the competitions that exist between congregations and denominations. Far too often, we focus more on criticizing other churches than learning from them. Evangelicals, Mainline, Pentecostals, Liberals, Conservatives, Progressive, Traditional, Missional, Inclusive, and thousands of other words simultaneously demarcate our battlefields and mission fields – funny how the two seem to always go together.
What would it look like if we started working together, encouraging one another, instead of building obstacles and badmouthing other ministries? What would it look like if we started to fund church plants in our neighborhoods, praying for the congregation across the street, or even privileging “mere Christianity” over a “distinctly denominational witness?” What if cared less about which people go to which church, and more about the people who go to no church?
For now I’m just thankful for these 3 brave men, and thousands more like them around the world – ministers that encourage people to be the Church somewhere, even if that isn’t as a member of their church.
To learn more about who we are and why we do what we do, please, read our first blog post here.
I talked to my mom recently. She was madder than a pair of rattlesnakes tied tail to tail and dropped into a hornets’ nest. For the third time in a month, someone robbed her. This time they broke into her car, which was behind her house in the carport under motion-lights and stole her digital camera.
According to her, the conversation with local police was more frustrating than the robbery itself. While Mom felt the severity of the situation warranted a full crime scene work-up, complete with fingerprints, 6x9 glossy photographs with arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, bloodhounds, search helicopters, and maybe even the lethal injection, the responding officer had other protocols and priorities for petty thieves – namely, write a report quickly and then return to traffic stops. Mom was scathing.
I know exactly how she feels. I hate a thief.
Maybe I learned it from her. Maybe it’s genetic. Maybe it’s both nature and nurture, but my blood boils with the thought of a person taking stuff from other people. I’m angry just locking doors and windows.
Shortly after the conversation, our landlords, the United Church of Zambia Theological College, came and installed steel burglar bars on our windows. For weeks now church members have volunteered their time to weld custom cages for each of our windows. I’ve spent hours each week watching them work with shielded eyes, and talking with them in broken Bemba, often about why the bars are necessary in Zambia. Everything inside of me wants to scream, “Why should I have to deter another human from taking my stuff? Why must we vigilantly guard our possessions if we want to keep them? Are people really that bent and broken and selfish?”
Yes. We are.
I have been robbed in the States and in Africa. It sucks. Whether someone is smashing your driver’s side window or reaching into your back pocket, the feeling of violation quickly draws me into level of hatred I rarely feel.
The violation is compounded by futility. You have failed to prevent the theft and the local police almost always have bigger, more dangerous, or more lucrative fish to fry than car stereo thieves, garage break-ins, and pickpockets. These two compound one another. The police can’t or won’t pursue and prosecute, so they encourage you towards prevention, the very thing your efforts have failed to accomplish, which (at least in the moment) feels like you are to be blamed for allowing yourself to be robbed.
There was no one to protect you, and now there’s no one to avenge you.
Sure, the assault wasn’t on YOU, but let’s be honest we are so intimately, perhaps idolatrously, attached to our things, that an assault on my things is an assault on ME. Already violated, the whole experience exposes my excessive enmeshment with inanimate objects. My body is fine, but it hurts so bad, precisely because to some extent, much more than I’d ever admit audibly, I am what I have. They have violated me and have stolen a piece of me.
This is one of the great discomforts of life in Africa. The perpetual pain of the violation-futility-hatred-idolatry cycle exists in an elaborate fractal form, which permeates every layer of society.
Individuals don’t carry money in pockets. Cash is intimately stored against one’s skin, usually underneath one’s intimate clothing.
Obstacles protect the entrances to homes: steel Burglar bars on the windows and doors and individual steel cages around TVs or radios for those who can afford them – those who can’t stack handmade bricks in the doorways before sleep.
Businesses exchange goods and cash behind barbed wire topped walls, manned by uniformed guards.
Theft still happens.
Individuals have cash stolen in the market places. Valuables in homes grow legs and walk away. Cargo on trucks routinely falls off at weigh stations and truck stops. Products subsidized in one country walk across porous borders gaining value with every step until they sell for triple their original cost. The government of the original, subsidizing country then releases emergency reserves to prevent a food-shortage caused by smuggling.
Over the last century, Government vehicles land in private garages. Para-statal businesses are passed under the table like trump cards. Foreign currency reserves are convenient resources for family vacations by senior government officials, and transfer easily to Swiss bank accounts. Tax dollars are routinely diverted. In a neighboring state, private farms and business have been “confiscated” and “redistributed” primarily to political allies and their families. Often, local militias held food and medical supplies sent to relief agencies for ransom, while using large portions of the cargo and their profits to feed or arm the militants perpetuating the conflicts, which necessitated the aid in the first place.
Moreover, multinational companies manipulate tax laws, while exporting a mountain of minerals and a sea of oil.
For certain, there are different rules for governance, privileges for governors, and definitions of theft, corruption, and exploitation in African cultures, than Western cultures. What looks like obvious “corruption” to Americans, may be an “expense account” or a “per diem” to a Zambian.
Still, I feel like my mom after her camera was stolen as I learn of each of these things. The level of violation and exploitation is compounded by futility. Who do you turn to when there is no standing government, as in Somalia? With whom do you file a report of rape in the midst of a civil war? How do you stop corruption when changing regimes immediately pardon the ousted perpetrators?
I feel the same rage when I drive through neighborhoods, whether in Africa or the US, populated by the mansions of politicians until I reach the poverty-laden communities they border.
Someone should pay for this. Someone should be pursued, prosecuted, and imprisoned, for a long, long time.
The Bible repeatedly reminds people with the same longings for justice that there is in fact and in reality an avenger, who will exact justice. We don’t talk much about this teaching, perhaps because the American justice system works just well enough for us to expect and believe justice will be done, but unfortunately billions of people lack a just penal system to trust. Perhaps we don’t talk about this teaching because we don’t want to imagine an avenging god, disciplining, punishing, or rehabilitating. Perhaps, after a thousand felt board sermons, we cannot imagine such a god.
Still, when we do remember this important Bible teaching, we prefer our justice to God’s. We’d rather exact our own vengeance, rather than leave it in the hands of a God, which we secretly worry, has no backbone. Like a mother, who suspects her neighbor never disciplines his rotten child, we want to make sure the little snot pays for his sass on our watch, because if we don’t, no one will. Isn’t that why we are so angry that people like Adolf Hitler and Adam Lanza committed suicide rather than “face justice?”
The truth is we want justice because we are made in the image of a just God, but we want OUR JUSTICE because we want to be GOD.
We certainly should pursue justice, defend the helpless, and extend the grace of rehabilitation to perpetrators. We want justice because there is still a glimmer, a hint, a spark – perverted, maimed, smoldered, but present – of the God who made us left inside of us. Sadly, even that light is dark, because we believe that we know better than God. We still make a better Judge than God. We believe it so strongly that we actually judge the Judge. We condemn and damn the Judge, when we fail to trust God’s justice.
At the pinnacle of history, humanity judged the Judge in a Roman court of law. We condemned and damned Jesus, nailing him to a tree.
I was not there, but I know I would have done the same, because I feel the same Judge-mocking voice in me, as I think, “Hell is too good for the a man who kills 18 elementary school children or orchestrates the slaughter of an ethic group. They should be subjected to the worst punishment we can imagine.”
I would have judged Jesus then, just as I judge him now.
Amazingly, Jesus submits to our judgment, until Sunday.
Author: Claire and Andrew Ruth
Created: June 21, 2012
The tale of two Zambian-trained missionaries and the realignment of their allegiances